More than a name
Two players. Two different schools. Two different shades of blue. One last name. Very similar games.
Chase's Shad Blanton and R-S Central's Jay Blanton, both seniors that share no relation, are integral parts of their team's success this season.
Neither Blanton stands taller than 5-10 but they've reeked havoc on opposing teams with their pinpoint shooting from beyond the arc, passing ability and knack for getting to the rim.
Tonight the two square off at Chase for their second meeting of the season with tipoff scheduled for 7:30 p.m..
"I love playing against somebody that relates to my game," Jay Blanton said about playing against Shad. "We both love to shoot and play fast."
The two, who were teammates on the Spindale Express just a few years back, make sure to explain that their success wasn't overnight.
"As soon as I could walk I had a little Fischer-Price goal," Shad said. "I remember missing sign-ups to play rec ball when I was 5 and just crying because my dad came home and told me it was too late."
Jay got a little later start on the game but quickly developed into a force on the hardwood.
"I started playing at the Spindale House as a kid and I really wasn't any good until I got to middle school," Jay said. "I worked on my shot everyday until I made varsity my tenth grade year."
R-S Central head basketball coach Greg Wright is currently in his third season with Jay.
"To watch [Jay] grow and develop as a player has been very gratifying for me as his coach," Wright said. "He has gone through a maturation process that's really helped him learn from some of his mistakes on and off the floor that has really made him a better individual as both a basketball player and as a young man."
Chase head coach Joe Jessen, who once served as the Chase Middle and Chase High JV coach, has seen Shad morph from a 12-year-old shot-machine in seventh grade to a complete basketball player in his senior season.
"In middle school all [Shad] wanted to do was shoot 3's," Jessen said with a chuckle. "He still wants to shoot 3's all the time but at least he's gotten other aspects of his game a little better."
As effective as both Blantons are on the offensive end of the ball, defense is close to their hearts.
"I like playing defense, that's what wins games," Jay said.
Coach Wright is the first to endorse Jay as a defender, but also sings his praises as a passer.
"We use Jay to try and eliminate their best player. He knows his role," Wright said. "He's shooting very well this year but what most people don't know is that he's also our leading assist man (4.9 assists per game). He sees the floor well, he's unselfish and he knows how to get the ball to the open man. If we need one shot I want the ball in Jay's hands, but even if we need it to go to someone else, I want it to start with Jay."
Shad carries much of the same burden for the Trojans.
"He even runs the show on the defensive end," Jessen said. "The guys on the team look to him to be a coach on the court. When they can't hear me when the gym is loud, they listen to him."
Shad has become the go-to guy for Chase, which was perfectly illustrated just this past Thursday when he buried two of three free throws in the closing second of a 59-58 win over Patton.
"A lot of the time, how he goes is how we go. We really rely on him to score and create for us," Jessen said. "Over the summer he really worked on his game. He kept calling me asking me to open up the gym 2-3 days a week so he could go in and shoot, work out and work on his ball handling. I can really see a difference thanks to this past summer."
Each Blanton, despite their prowess on the floor, has an obvious sense of composure and sportsmanship throughout a game. They could drain consecutive 3's or score 10 straight points, but you'll never see them boast or play it up to the crowd.
"I just try to stay focused and just worry about trying to win, that's all that matters," Jay said about his on-court demeanor.
"I just try to stay calm and be humble," Shad added.
As the season progresses and their high school careers near their completion, both Shad and Jay are focused on doing more with their games. According to Shad and Jay, each has the option of playing at a number of prep schools but they are still holding out hope for a scholarship offer or walk-on role.
"I would just say that I'm a complete player," Shad said about his skill set. "I work hard on my handling and shooting. I need to get my defense better if I want to play on the next level. I've always wanted to play at the next level so that's what I'm working to do."
Even if basketball isn't a part of their short or long-term future, Shad and Jay know what it takes to succeed.
"I'm trying to be successful and make good grades," Shad said. "My dad always told me that I need a back-up plan."
"[Jay] is an individual who can, and will be successful when he graduates from R-S Central High School," Wright said of his senior guard.
And for players that garner so much attention when the ball is in their hands, they know that in the grand scheme of things, it isn't all about them.
"I play for myself because I just love the game, but my grandmother passed last year and I told myself that I would have a good season and just pray that she's looking over me," Shad revealed.
"I have two little brothers, one 9 and one 13. I'm trying to be the big brother that I never had. I help my 9-year-old brother shoot every day. If he keeps working he'll be real good," Jay said. "I just play for my family. No one in my family ever went to college so I just want to do well for them."