For Towson men’s basketball player Bryan Blackstone, his journey nearly ended without him reaching the triumph stage.
Wearing a Tiger uniform was Blackstone’s goal from the second he stepped on campus as a freshman in 2008. Although the team didn’t have formal try-outs during his first three years on campus, Blackstone did everything he could to get recognized. He went to all the open gyms and stayed in contact with the coaching staff in hopes of getting the chance to walk-on to the team. However, he kept hearing that there were too many guards on the team and to keep working on his game.
“I worked all three years and I wasn’t going to allow myself to give up the last year,” said Blackstone. “When the new coaching staff was hired, they announced they were having walk-on try-outs my senior year and I jumped at the opportunity.”
After a handful of practices, Blackstone’s phone rang.
“I received a call asking me if I officially wanted to be on the team,” he said. “I hung up the phone without even saying yes because so much was running through my mind. I remember sprinting over to the Towson Center and asking the coaches if I needed to sign anything. I was so emotional because all of my hard work paid off.”
When Tiger head coach Pat Skerry took over in April of 2011, he knew the team was thin at the guard position and that he would need to add some talent from within since the recruiting period was all but over. He quickly fell in love with Blackstone’s work ethic and the energy he brought to the young team.
“Bryan is one of my favorite guys,” said Skerry. “He brings energy and effort every day. He’s a model student-athlete and his enthusiasm is contagious. Everyone on the team, staff and campus loves him.”
Although Blackstone didn’t log a high total of minutes last season, he did see action in 15 games. In fact, the first basket of his career, which came in a game at the University of Delaware, actually made ESPN’s SportsCenter.
“Last year was more than I could have ever asked for,” said Blackstone. “My first college game was at Kansas and then we played Michigan. I made it on ESPN. I still can’t believe that happened. I just loved the entire season. I don’t care about the record. That happens. It’s what we do after that which makes us who we are and that will eventually define this team.”
Blackstone graduated with a degree in exercise science and will now use his final year of eligibility to compete for the Tigers during the 2012-13 season as a graduate student. He’s seeking a graduate degree in professional studies and relishes the chance to mentor the four incoming freshmen on the team, both on the court and off.
Blackstone, who made the Dean’s List six times as an undergraduate, says he hopes to really push his academics to the next level. Although he was a good student before joining the team, he recognizes how lucky he is to have a staff of advisors that are looking out for him academically.
“I’m the only guy on the team that knows what it’s like to go to school while not being a student-athlete, so I really appreciate what our academic staff does for us,” explained Blackstone. “As soon as I walked onto the team, it was an entirely new experience both on the court and academically. Laura (Klimchock) and Geoff (Gordon) have helped me through everything. They put themselves out there and really go out of their way to make sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing. If it wasn’t for them, our team wouldn’t have made the improvements it did last year.
“We all actually want to go into their office and learn,” Blackstone continued. “Even though it’s a small room, we somehow usually fit about eight guys in there at a time. Some guys are supposed to be in there, but usually you’ll find a bunch of us just hanging out. It’s not a stressful environment like you’d think. It’s an environment where everyone can go and learn while also being able to socialize and relax.”
Blackstone has immediately formed a bond with Providence transfer Bilal Dixon. Although there is nearly a foot height differential (Blackstone is 5-10 and Dixon is listed at 6-9), the two share the bond of being graduate students.
“We hit it off as soon as he arrived on campus,” said Blackstone. “He must have gotten my number from one of our teammates because I received a call from him before I even started practicing. We’re both taking graduate classes, but we also both have a love for boxing and that brought us together. We’re very close, the only difference is he’s huge and I’m a pretty small guy.”
Blackstone, who is known for diving on the court for loose balls and putting his body in harm’s way to make plays, said he’s always had a passion for boxing. His grandfather was a street fighter in the Bronx before becoming a professional boxer. His dad, who is a trauma surgeon, is a ring doctor on the side.
Blackstone got an itch for boxing when he was young and went to watch the fights with his family.
“I always thought I was a tough guy, but after watching those fights I quickly realized I’m really not all that tough,” said Blackstone with a smile. “I started getting more involved with boxing because I wanted to push my limits and get experience in a different sport that my height would allow. I love the competitiveness in boxing. It’s like a chess match. No matter how big or how fast you are, everyone has a chance to win with the right plan of attack.”
Before Blackstone can continue pursuing his passion of boxing, he wants to finish his graduate degree and see what the 2012-13 season has in store for the Tigers.
“I’m more excited for this basketball season than I’ve been for anything in my life,” said Blackstone. “Everyone on the team is in shape and going at it to get their teammates better. I feel that this year will be a huge turnaround for the program. I can’t wait for what this season has in store.”