January 2, 2015.
Remember this day for LSU basketball, because a half-decade of mediocrity might have just been purged, making way for a complete rebirth of the program.
That seems like hyperbole — and it could turn out to be exactly that — but it's hard not to be ecstatic about shooting guard Antonio Blakeney signing with the Tigers on Friday. Not only did LSU get a consensus top-20 player in the class of 2015, but he'll pair with No. 1 overall recruit and otherworldly pro prospect Ben Simmons. For a program that hasn't won anything of note in six years and hasn't been consistently successful since 2003-06, this is a renaissance in the making.
Let's give you some more background on Blakeney. He's a 6-foot-4 guard who absolutely knows how to create his own shot, armed with a crossover and a jump shot. Though still a bit wiry, he can finish at the rim in traffic and can jump out the gym. He does need to be more consistent with his 3-point shot but his mid-range pull-up game is as good as it gets in this year's class.
So how did we get here? Well, Blakeney originally committed to Louisville last year but decommitted several months back, with reasons officially unknown. It was widely speculated, though, that Nike - which has sponsored several of his club teams and invited him to showcase events - wasn't thrilled with the decision, the Cards being an Adidas team and all. If that seems asinine to do to a 17-year-old, well, it is. But LSU benefitted from it tremendously.
We've had our issues with Johnny Jones, especially as an Xs and Os coach and even a motivator at times, but there's no doubt the man can recruit. This is the kind of class we envisioned when he became head coach back in 2012. It's not even done yet, either. And getting Blakeney may have been even more impressive than the Simmons signing, since LSU didn't have the family connection and essentially went head-to-head with recruiting goliath Kentucky
While it's hard to say that Kentucky made him priority No. 1 - that would be Mississippi stud Malik Newman, the slightly more touted of the two - getting a commitment from a 5-star player that had an offer from Kentucky is about as big a coup as it gets in college basketball right now.
Blakeney will pairs with Simmons, his friend and oft-teammate on the AAU and grassroots circuits. The duo instantly makes LSU a contender for the SEC title next year, regardless of whether Jarell Martin or Jordan Mickey stick around. If even one of them does, the Tigers should even think bigger than that. In college basketball, stud recruits like this can instantly transform a program, especially when you combine them with a bit of experience, which LSU should have in the backcourt next season.
In college basketball, it's such a chicken or the egg question. Which comes first? The results or the stud recruits? And it can often take a long time to get the ball rolling for programs that sit dormant in these major conferences. Blakeney's signing just made it an avalanche for the Tigers.
Let's see if LSU can be a basketball school again, too.
Here are some of Blakeney's highlights via Youtube: