Antonio Blakeney proved as an LSU freshman that he’s a talented basketball player.
Tuesday, he proved he’s smart, too.
Blakeney announced, with unexpected rapidity, that he’s returning for his sophomore season. After deciding to test the NBA draft waters, Blakeney figured out he didn’t even want to dip his toe into the pre-draft combine in May.
Blakeney apparently got some very sound advice through this entire process. Unlike a lot of young men his age he listened, unwilling to allow himself to be seduced by the NBA’s dollar signs.
Unlike Ben Simmons, who forged ahead after his no-brainer decision to turn pro as a sure-fire lottery pick, Blakeney took measured steps through his process as he tried to feel out a much more uncertain draft future. Shortly after Simmons’ decision, Blakeney said he would consider his options but without hiring an agent, a move that would have immediately closed the door to returning to LSU.
Blakeney didn’t allow that to happen, and while he won’t profit from his talent with NBA riches today, he’s enhanced his chances of reaping them in the near future.
Like a lot of freshmen, Blakeney had an up and down season. He started out strong, suffered a crisis of confidence in his superb jump shot midway through and regained his footing again late in the season. That late upturn, allowing him to finish with 12.6 points per game on 42.5 percent shooting (a decent 33.5 percent from 3-point range), might have been enough momentum to convince Blakeney it was time to turn pro.
But he was measured, careful, wise even with the process. Uncommonly so.
I don’t know what the decisive factor for Blakeney, but if it was me it would have been the admission that Blakeney needs more bulk to bang 82 nights a season with the overgrown men of the NBA. At 6-foot-4, 190 pounds, Blakeney could have been charitably been classified as willowy at best. He needs to get bigger and stronger before he make the leap to the next level.
Hopefully, Blakeney is happy with his choice. It’s a good bet that LSU coach Johnny Jones is doing backflips off the levee by LSU’s campus.
There’s no doubt that Jones is occupying a hot seat going into the 2016-17 season after the disappointment of the last. Trying to make a go of a job-securing season is going to be tough enough without Simmons, Keith Hornsby and Tim Quarterman. Without Blakeney, it might well have been impossible.
Whatever you may think of LSU’s prospects for next season, or Jones’ acumen as a coach, at the very least the Tigers will have the foundation of a strong inside-outside duo in Blakeney and forward Craig Victor.
Will it be enough for LSU to somehow improve on last year’s 19-14 record? That’s debatable. But Blakeney gives LSU a much better chance.
Especially with a player who’s already proven his talents – and his smarts.