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Blackmon Jr. returning to Italian league

GIANT STEP: James Blackmon Jr. will step up in class and competition in his 2019-20 basketball season in Italy. Blackmon signed withDolomiti Energia Trento in July and will again compete in Italy’s top professional league as well as in the EuroCup against all the top European teams.

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

Take a look through the social media accounts of James Blackmon Jr. and you’ll see just a small part of how he’s spent his summer.

By all accounts, Blackmon’s first season as a professional basketball player in Europe, where he played in the Italia Serie A league for Consultinvest Pesaro, was a smashing success.

Blackmon finished second in the league in points (581) and points per game (20), third in three-point field goals made (73) and three-point percentage (34.9). He also connected on better than 90 percent (130 of 144) of his shots from the foul line to lead the league in that category while ranking inside the top 10 in several other areas.

But that’s history now, and Blackmon’s successes are all just part of his journey of learning and growing. A journey he hopes one day soon will lead him back to the United States and a job in the NBA, but it has immediately earned him a spot on a new team and a bigger opportunity to showcase his ability.

“It was great, a great experience,” Blackmon said Wednesday afternoon. “I learned a lot about Europe and how the game is different over there. Going into this next season I’ve got a lot of experience and ways I can develop and get better and have an even better season.”

Late in July Blackmon signed a contract with Dolomiti Energia Trento, and like his former team, a member of the top league in Italy. Perhaps more importantly though, Trento is also in the EuroCup, a league for all the top teams in Europe, which probably ranks second to the NBA in overall talent level.

After playing in 30 games last season, Blackmon said his new team could potentially play in around 60 this season. 

“Last year I was on team that played in the top league in Italy, but that was it,” Blackmon said. “This year I’ll be playing the bigger teams in different countries so it’s a way to show my game in every different county. From there, if I play well this season, I think it will open up a lot of different doors whether I want to come back. A lot different teams and leagues will be able to see me.”

Blackmon’s Instagram and Twitter accounts gives a glimpse of those summer activities preparing him for his next job opportunity.

Part of his time was spent in Atlanta at P3 Peak Performance, an institution founded in 2006 by Dr. Marcus Elliott, a Harvard trained physician, with the expressed goal of bringing a more data-driven approach to understanding athlete movement and development for performance optimization, according to the p3.md website.

Another part of Blackmon’s summer was spent in Indianapolis playing against and working our with other professional basketball players, learning and growing his game. 

Year one in Italy was a learning process in itself. Basketball is basketball all over the world, but the European game has its intricate differences from the way its player in the states.

“Probably just the physicality,” Blackmon noted of the biggest difference in his mind. “In the NBA game there is a little more spacing. There is not three seconds over in Europe, so it’s tough to create a lot of space and things like that. But I got better and better as the season went on, and I think it’s helping my game a lot coming back here.”

Blackmon also experienced an adjustment period in his life away from the court overseas, but it was something he adapted to quickly which ultimately made him more comfortable both in the game and the country.

“At first it was difficult, but Italy for me is a very nice place to live in. It was like I was staying in a vacation spot,” he said. “It wasn’t too hard to adapt to that, so I’m excited to get back there because I’m in an even bigger city now and on a bigger team.  “My whole team, they speak English. My coach speaks English and everyone in the city, they understand English as well,” he added. “I learned a lot of Italian phrases for if I had to get around or I needed something, but for the most part I could understand the things I needed to know on the court in Italian. Other than that everyone else was very welcoming and helped whether I needed to say something in Italian or they would speak English pretty well. It was good.”

Blackmon doesn’t know any of his new teammates on a personal level just yet, but will start getting to know them in short order as he leaves on Saturday for his next job. Trento’s roster does currently feature five American players, including former Ohio State standout Aaron Craft and George King, who has NBA experience with the Utah Jazz.  

Trento met Blackmon’s signing in July with excitement it expressed through its Twitter account, “We got ourselves a scorer! Welcome James Blackmon Jr.! #WeDieHard.” the tweet simply stated. Although he had discussions about playing with NBA teams this summer, Blackmon said the opportunity he was searching for wasn’t presented so he opted to continue his career in Europe.

“Most of the opportunities offered (by NBA teams) were non-guaranteed and things of that nature,” Blackmon said. “But for me, I think I just want to build and get better until I’m fully guaranteed or making a lot money to where either way it really doesn’t matter.

“I’m just really staying focused on the journey and getting better every day and I think that will take care of it.”

Blackmon said his first year in Europe taught him to be a better leader, gave him a chance to show his ability as a point guard and also how to become a more physical defender. A lot of his work during his summer in the states has been done to keep traveling along that same path.

With a schedule that will double the games Blackmon will play and starts at the end of September, the summer of 2019 is the most important of his young career to date.

“All summer my main focus was keeping my body right because I know that its a long season,” Blackmon said. “So the main thing for me was just focus on staying healthy, number one. Number two was just working on my skill set, keeping everything tight. Then number three, just watching things defensively, things that I could do better on the defensive end to get better and be an all around player.”