James Blackmon (Jr. and Sr.) return

James Blackmon Jr. talks about life in Marion

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Ben Smith

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Blackmons make strange sight seem normal

– Why, they’re just as right as rain, the father and the son. There’s nothing’s strange about this at all.

No worlds tilt on their axes as James Blackmon Jr. takes the outlet pass and sails downcourt, the game clock crowding him.

No weirdness exudes as he rises, the same kid you’ve been watching for three years at Bishop Luers, but now wearing No. 24 in purple, and two-hands a dunk that beats the horn by a twitch and makes all those Marion fans behind you moan in ecstasy.

The scoreboard here at Carroll changes from 33-29, Hamilton Southeastern, to 33-31 at halftime. Blackmon and his teammates trot off the floor. James Blackmon Sr., the head coach …

Wait a second.

Marion fans?

“No, it’s not strange (being back in Fort Wayne),” Blackmon Jr. says later, after scoring 37 points, including 14 in the fourth quarter to lead Marion to an 83-81 Carroll Shootout semifinal victory over the previously unbeaten Royals.

“Not strange at all,” Blackmon Sr. insists.

And if that’s true … well, it isn’t for the rest of us. The last time Blackmon Sr. was seen in these parts, after all, he was coaching Bishop Luers, and Blackmon Jr. was wearing No. 2 in Luers red-and-black. Now the two of them – plus Junior’s brother Vijay, who scored nine of his 17 in the fourth quarter against Hamilton Southeastern – are in Marion, where the gym seats 7,560, is named after an Indiana coaching legend (Bill Green) and has some interesting laundry hanging at one end: Seven state championship banners.

The presence of Blackmon Sr., a Marion Giant, um, giant in his own right, and Blackmon Jr., now wearing his dad’s old number, has everyone thinking about those banners again.

“If you know the tradition of Marion basketball, Marion basketball is always one of the top programs in the state,” Blackmon Sr. said Saturday, before Marion (5-3) lost to Carroll 67-61 in the title game of the Shootout. Chandler White had 24 points for the Chargers while Blackmon Jr. had 27.

“We’re trying to rebuild. At the beginning of this year, there was an excitement about the Marion basketball team.”

It does seem so. Though they haven’t won a state title in 13 years or a sectional since 2008, the Giants’ faithful are clearly buzzing again; Saturday, there was a healthy complement of Giant supporters in the house. Not a few of them were wearing purple T-shirts reading “Return of the Giants,” flanked by cutout photos of Giant legends – including the original No. 24, James Sr.

So, yes, there are expectations again. But Blackmon Sr. will admit only that it was “a very emotional feeling” walking back into Bill Green Arena for the first game of the season, not the nervousness of a man holding the keys to a legacy.

“A lot of emotions went through my body, as far as thinking back as a player and some of the moments I had, some of the special moments we had as a team,” he recalls. “The crowd was unbelievable. It reminded me of the old days.”

For his sons, on the other hand, these are the new days. James Jr. and Vijay joined a team that, their father says, is a work in progress. And even if James Jr. arrived as the celebrated blue-chip IU recruit, he was still a new kid at a new school.

“Really, the first week, I really just wanted to make friends,” says James Jr., noting that the presence of Vijay, who already knew some of the Marion kids from AAU ball, helped ease that process. “This year I had to accept taking a huge leadership role, so that was probably the toughest thing. But I think they accept me as a leader.”

And playing in Marion?

“It’s great,” he says. “They just want to have a great season. They’ve been looking forward to this for years now.”

Nothing strange about that.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.