The basketball hoops came down across Baltimore last week. This followed the closure of playgrounds, tennis courts and other high-traffic areas. It’s a similar story across the United States.
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Future Dayton Flyers guard R.J. Blakney, one of three freshmen joining the team next season, has had to get creative while he’s staying at home in Baltimore with his mom Dwuana “Dafne” Lee-Blakney and grandma Marie Lee.
“Are you able to get up shots anywhere these days?” Blakney was asked.
“Air shots,” he said.
That’s life these days during the coronavirus pandemic. Everything is on hold, including the plans for the 6-foot-6 Blakney and fellow Dayton recruits, Lukas Frazier and Koby Brea. In normal times, they would have arrived in Dayton in June and enrolled in school for the second summer session. It’s too early to say if that will happen now.
“It’s really weird,” Blakney said, “because probably at this time, you’d be working in the gym, trying to get ready, in contact with the trainer, because you want to be ready going in. But it’s always a challenge. You’ve got to look at this as a thing where you’ve got to do some stuff on your own and learn new things and really keep yourself sharp by being self motivated.”
Blakney, who committed to Dayton in October and signed in November, has an advantage over some players because his mom is a longtime coach who had a successful college career at the University of Maryland.
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Blakney said he and his mom have been doing workouts together at home. They get the stretching bands and weights out and do a lot of core work. They also pass the time by listening to music. Blakney said his grandma is from Haiti and likes to dance.
Getting extra time with his family, he said, has been a blessing during the COVID-19 crisis, especially since he just spent six months away from home for the first time at the Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, Conn.
Blakney graduated from St. Maria Goretti Catholic High School in Hagerstown, Md., in 2019 but decided to spend a post-graduate career at Loomis Chaffee. That’s when Dayton entered the recruiting picture.
At Loomis Chaffee, Blakney averaged 20.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.3 steals per game. He was named the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council Class A Co-Player of the Year. The team won the NEPSAC Class A Founders League championship with a 21-6 record.
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“It was good,” Blakney said. “We won the championship at the end of the year and put ourselves in position to do that from the start by working hard. It was a fun season. It was a year of development and getting better, and I think it paid off.”
Blakney heard from all the Dayton coaches almost every day throughout the season. He worked on all aspects of his game — from knocking down shots to reading and reacting faster — but mostly focused on getting stronger.
While Blakney played his season, he kept an eye on how his future team was doing, marveling at the Flyers as they rose to No. 3 in the Associated Press poll and set a school record with 29 victories.
“Anytime I would get out of practice, I would check my phone to see the score,” he said. “The kids in the school would be like, ‘Dayton won by 20,’ or something like that.”
Blakney visited UD in October and watched a preseason practice. He thought then Dayton would do something great.
“They were special from top to bottom,” he said. “When I first saw them in the (Maui Invitational), I was like, ‘They can do something special.’ I said that from the time I visited them. They practiced hard. They listened. It was a great team.”
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Blakney was fortunate his season ended before games started getting cancelled across the country. Loomis Chaffee students took their winter-term exams and then headed home for spring break during the second week of March. Blakney said he was home in Baltimore on March 17 when he received an email telling him students wouldn’t be returning to school. Remote learning started March 25.
While Blakney completes his school work, he continues to communicate with his future coaches at Dayton.
“They told me to do what I can to stay in shape,” he said. “Most importantly, they just want us to stay safe and listen to the guidelines.”
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