Ben Simmons wasn’t the only five-star recruit that hit Louisiana State University’s campus in the fall of 2015, and he wasn’t alone in hoping that NBA dreams would soon become reality.
Antonio Blakeney entered college as a five-star shooting guard recruit — ranked No. 15 overall in the class of 2015 by ESPN — out of Orlando, Fl., and following a decent freshman year, batted around the idea of bolting LSU for the NBA. Instead, Blakeney stuck around for another season to build up his résumé and make sure he was ready for the grind of the next level.
“Mainly because I thought I was more ready,” Blakeney told Basketball Insiders about his choice to leave college following his sophomore season. “Ready to do whatever it takes to stick in the NBA. It’s not always about getting there. I was thinking about coming after my freshman year, but I don’t think I was more ready mentally. Off the court wise, just making sure my head’s on the right track. I’m totally focused, ready to do whatever it takes to stick in the league.”
Despite producing 17.2 points per game this past season, good enough for fifth in the SEC, Blakeney didn’t receive an invite to the official NBA Draft Combine. Instead, he found himself in his hometown of Orlando at the Pro Basketball Combine from May 15-17 working out in front of prospective employers.
However, the 6-foot-4 guard isn’t letting that slight shake his focus. If anything, Blakeney thinks the snub could benefit his work ethic.
“Just a chip on my shoulder, more fuel to my fire,” Blakeney said. “I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get to the next level. Whether it’s the combine, or this, or whatever team workout, I’m willing to do it. It is what it is, I didn’t make it but it’s okay, it’s just something I didn’t make.”
Coming out of high school Blakeney was pegged as a scorer and someone who could get a bucket from any level of the court. After registering a 54.9 true shooting percentage in college, Blakeney used the Pro Basketball Combine stage to show NBA personnel that his shot could certainly translate to the next level.
— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) May 16, 2017
Along with displaying his shooting touch, Blakeney showed off some NBA athleticism as well, ranking third overall out of all participants with a 10.41-second lane agility drill.
While it may not have been the official combine, Blakeney still enjoyed the opportunity to get out there and compete with some talented players.
“It was fun,” Blakeney said. “Some great players here with Austin (Nichols) and James Blackmon, guys like that. So it was fun to go out there and compete, to have fun and keep getting better.”
But to Blakeney, combine snubs, shooting percentages, draft evaluations and all other factors that arise during a pre-draft process don’t mean anything following draft night. Once those 60 picks are off the board, it’s all about who can play and who can’t.
“The draft process and the draft after June 22 doesn’t mean as much,” Blakeney said. “They got guys who go number one that may not pan out, and then you got guys like Jonathon Simmons who didn’t get drafted, he made it the D-League way. You got guys who were second round picks like Draymond Green and Manu Ginobili. So after the draft, the draft doesn’t matter anymore. Just like after you leave high school, your ranking, none of that stuff matters anymore it’s about what you do at the next level.”
Of course, none of that matters at all if the player doesn’t have what it takes to play basketball at the highest level in the world. But don’t look to Blakeney as someone who doesn’t believe they can make the cut.
“I definitely feel like I’m an NBA player,” Blakeney said. “I feel like I have an NBA work ethic, NBA competitiveness.”
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