Jalen Blackmon will be heading to the Arizona desert to continue his basketball career next fall.
Of course, not before he continues his pursuit of becoming the all-time leading scorer in Marion boys basketball history in his senior season, a spot Jalen’s dad, James Blackmon Sr., currently holds.
With his mom Sailaja, brother Vijay and dad by his side in the Marion High School hospitality room Wednesday afternoon, Jalen Blackmon signed his national letter of intent to play for Grand Canyon University in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC).
“It’s definitely the hardest decision of my life, but I feel like I made the right one,” Jalen said. “The coaches I’m playing for and the people around the program, I feel like it’s going to be a really good situation for me.”
While Grand Canyon might be unfamiliar to many people in Indiana, a big part of the university’s allure for Blackmon came from its coaching staff: specifically in native Hoosiers Bryce Drew and Ed Schilling.
Drew was hired in March to be the Antelopes’ head coach, and the Valparaiso native had previous coaching stops at Valparaiso University, his alma mater, and Vanderbilt.
Schilling, a native of Lebanon, Indiana, spent the last two years as an assistant at Indiana University and the four years prior at UCLA working with Steve Alford.
Blackmon credited Schilling with putting Grand Canyon on his radar.
“I was in contact with coach Schilling when he was at Indiana, and when he went to Grand Canyon he was the first person to really put my name out there,” Jalen said.
Jalen admitted that one of the top factors that led his decision was the opportunity to make an impact early in his career, perhaps even immediately.
“Even with the senior rule with seniors coming back, coach Drew and coach Schilling and the other coaches, they let me know they wanted me to come in and play a lot of minutes as a freshman,” Jalen said. “That was really the most important thing. He told me he wants me to come in and play exactly how I play for my dad. Playing for my dad these last four years has been the funnest time of my life.”
Just minutes after Blackmon signed his letter of intent, Grand Canyon announced the commitment – with great excitement – through a press release on www.gculopes.com.
“Jalen is from a basketball family and he’s a prolific scorer with a very high basketball IQ,” said Drew in Grand Canyon’s release written by Paul Coro. “He’s going to be a tremendous fit on our campus. He’s a 3.8 student. With the returning players, he’s going to complement them really well.
“We look for his impact to be immediate for us with the experience he’s had playing Indiana high school basketball and working his whole life against his brothers,” Drew continued. “His value will come in many ways on the court, but also many ways off the court. He has extremely high character and he’s an excellent student. Our campus is going to love having him here.”
James Blackmon said he let Jalen hold the reins during the recruiting process, but offered some insight and wisdom when Jalen asked. Blackmon Sr. is quite familiar with recruiting after going through it himself before landing at Kentucky, as well as with his two eldest sons, James Jr. and Vijay.
“The thing for me is I wanted him to feel comfortable,” James Sr. said. “He’s the one that’s gonna be going to practice and playing for the coach, so I wanted him to be comfortable with his decision. At the same time, if he asked certain questions I was there to answer those questions for him.”
“It’s always stressful until you finally sign that letter of intent,” he added. “Now it’s time for us to concentrate on the Marion Giants and for him to have a great senior year. It’s my job to put him in a position to go there and be an impact player.”
And Jalen is ready.
The last game he played in Bill Green Arena ended with a severe knee injury and cut his junior season to just eight games. The injury and rehabilitation process has changed Jalen’s perspective just a bit, but not the goals for his senior season.
“Win games,” Jalen succinctly stated. “I think we have a really good team and a lot of people don’t think we’re going to be as good as I think we’re gong to be. I think we’re going to make a run for state this year.
“I feel like I’m looking at the game in a different way now, knowing it can be taken away from you anytime,” he added of the injury. “It’s hard. I’ve worked hard to get back to where I’m at.”
Blackmon wasn’t totally sure what his major will be at Grand Canyon, but he’s leaning towards sports management.