R.J. Blakney can hardly remember all the colleges that recruited him over the last few years. He had offers from numerous schools — St. Bonaventure, St. Joseph’s and Nebraska to name a few — during his high school career, but at the end, after he chose to go to a post-graduate school, the Dayton Flyers and Georgetown Hoyas were pursuing him the hardest.
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“It’s been a long process,” Blakney said Sunday. “I learned a lot. I’m glad I had the opportunity to make a decision and a great decision.”
Blakney, a 6-foot-5 guard and three-star recruit, announced his commitment to the University of Dayton late Friday night. He joins Mentor Lake Catholic’s Lukas Frazier and Koby Brea, of Monsignor Scanlan in Bronx, N.Y., in Dayton’s 2020 recruiting class.
Dayton did not recruit Blakney when he was a student at St. Maria Goretti Catholic High School in Hagerstown, Md. UD entered the picture late in the recruiting process. Blakney said Dayton assistant coach Ricardo Greer showed up about a month ago in Windsor, Conn., at a workout at the Loomis Chaffee School, where Blakney is spending a post graduate year. Greer later brought head coach Anthony Grant to the school.
“From there, the rest was history,” Blakney said. “They really liked my game.”
Greer continues to be a strong recruiting for Dayton. He also played a big role in the recruitment of Brea.
“He’s a really good guy,” Blakney said. “He wants to see you do well. He really cares about you a person. The moment I spoke with him when he came up to the workout, he was just real authentic. It was really an easy decision or me.”
Blakney flew to Dayton from Connecticut on Oct. 17 and began his official visit the next day. According to the itinerary of his visit, which his mom, Dwuana “Dafne” Lee-Blakney, shared on Instagram, his first-day activities included breakfast with the coaching staff at the Butter Cafe, a meeting with Grant in his office at the Cronin Center, a green-screen photo shoot, lunch at Milano’s, a tour of UD Arena, dinner at Fleming’s and time with the players after dinner.
Blakney’s mom arrived Friday night and joined him for Saturday’s activities. He participated in a breast cancer walk with the team, shot baskets at the Cronin Center, met with strength coach Casey Cathrall and academic advisor Beth Flach, watched the team practice and then met with trainer Mike Mulcahey and Grant again. There was later lunch on Brown Street, a campus tour and dinner with the team at UD Arena.
The entire experience convinced Blakney to commit less than a week later. He didn’t take any other official visits this fall.
“It’s a great program, a great coaching staff, great history,” Blakney said. “They’re just really a great group of guys. I met the guys on my official visit. They were really cool. They’re really hard working.”
Most of those players will still be on the roster a year from now. Dayton loses two seniors, Ryan Mikesell and Trey Landers, after the 2019-20 season and could see Obi Toppin depart for the NBA draft. That means Blakney met eight or nine Flyers who could be his teammates.
In Blakney, Dayton gets a player who averaged 16.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game as a senior and led his team to 30 wins.
“I’m pretty much a player who can do anything a coach needs me to do,” he said. “I’m a great defender. I’m great in transition. I’m a very athletic person. I like to get out and get some dunks.”
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Blakney finished his career with more than 1,800 points, the second-highest total in St. Maria Goretti history,
“R.J.’s a stud,” St. Maria Goretti coach Sidney McCray said. “I think he’s a guy who can score from all three levels. He’s something special to watch in transition, and he’s a great defender, too. He can guard pretty much one through four and sometimes five depending on the matchup. A great kid, really hungry, very passionate about the game.”
Born and raised in Baltimore, Blakney moved to Spring Mills, W.Va., in eighth grade and then returned to Maryland to attend St. Maria Goretti. He announced in August his decision to attend Loomis Chaffee.
“I decided to go to prep school,” Blakney said, “so I can get better on and off the court, academically and get stronger and develop my game to be even more prepared for college.”
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“I think R.J. really wanted to spend an extra year working on his craft before he got to the college game,” McCray said. “I think this year will help him more so physically. His game can always get better, but his game is pretty polished.”
Throughout the recruiting process, Blakney has had an advantage over many players in the same position because his mom went through the same experience in high school. Dafne was a standout player at Walbrook Senior High School in Baltimore and then played at Maryland, scoring 992 points in her career (1989-92) and appearing in the Final Four in 1989. She later played professional basketball in Europe before starting a coaching career.
“She’s always been there for me,” Blakney said. “She has coached for as long as I’ve been living. That’s how I learned basketball: through her, her working me out a lot, showing me skills to work on.”
During his visit to UD, his mom gave him pointers, telling him what to look for and what questions to ask.
“She went through it,” Blakney said. “She said, ‘This is what you’ve got to do to make the best decision possible.”
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