While LSU’s Ben Simmons is the likely 2016 draft headliner, LSU teammate Antonio Blakeney (ESPN ranked 17th recruit in class of ’15) is also likely be a lottery pick, and maybe even a top 10 selection in next year’s draft, should he decide to declare. Blakeney, (known as simply "Tone" by those close to him) has no shortage of confidence in himself and in his team. On the team’s first official media day prior to their exhibition trip to Australia, Blakeney offered up his beliefs in the teams national title chances ("I think we’ll win the National Championship.") When pressed for reassurance, Blakeney was resound in his resolve; "I think we’re going to win the national championship." Behind his, and Simmons, tremendous talent, they might just have a shot.
Blakeney's bravado and self confidence should come as no surprise to any hoops junkie who may have seen his "Be Great" video series on youtube. "Be Great" is a series of documentary short films following Blakeney through highlights of his high school journey, among them AAU showcase games, and a 7 part series on his senior season and preparation for his arrival at LSU. Blakeney shows a dedication and perspective that few high school seniors, let alone Division 1 NCAA players, have in regards to his game. Putting himself through two-a-days with pro trainer Mark Edwards and others, developing a specific pre-game routine (that, when not performed, led to his lowest scoring and self proclaimed worst performance of his senior year), and going to meet with future teammate Ben Simmons for workouts are all traits and activities of a much more seasoned and dedicated hoop veteran.
Mentally, the profile seems to be there for success. Disclaimer: these videos are obviously produced with the help of Blakeney and his people and so they more than likely show him in the most favorable light possible. That being said, he certainly says all the right things (expressed lack of desire to go out and party, instead choosing to squeeze extra work outs into those time slots), and presents the front of a player truly dedicated to his craft. If his off-the-court discipline is what it seems to be, then Blakeney should be a good bet for success at the next level.
No Bounce pic.twitter.com/aQ8dNPzc9S
— #LongLiveBreeze (@blakeney96) March 10, 2015
On the court, Blakeney is a do-everything scorer who spent his senior year of high school focused on upping his efficiency. Lucky for him, his natural strengths fit perfectly into the general philosophic desires of the NBA in it's current incarnation; threes and shots at the rim (one of the most intriguing aspects of Blakeney’s game, from a pro perspective, is his advanced ability to finish at the rim through contact.) With a continued dedication to improving his efficiency and slot selection, he should carve out a name for himself as one of the best scorers in college basketball this year. Blakeney has far exceeded the threshold of scoring ability necessary to qualify him as a pro prospect, and it'll be more about developing the rest of his game to rise to the level of his scoring.
From a physical standpoint, he’s got the perfect body for an NBA guard. At 6’4.5, Blakeney has a strong wingspan (6’7.75) and standing reach (8’3.75) for his frame. Where he really excels, though, is his leaping ability and explosive quickness with the ball. With a 45" vertical, Blakeney is in the upper echelon of draft prospects not just in recent memory, but historically (this may be in large part to his work with Vertimax and trainer Mark Edwards, who also helped Blakeney with his jumping form, which is critically important and often not emphasized enough.) His quickness and change of direction abilities are strong as well, but he'll have to take care to not lose that quick twitch ability as he continues to add muscle and size throughout the year (Blakeney has reported he's added 13 pounds since arriving at school over the summer, and if he does declare for the draft, he'll likely go back into trying to add more size for his pro workouts.)
Based off his athleticism, his ceiling as a defender in the pros is high. The ability to succeed on defense at the pro level is really dependent on three things: physical ability, exertion of effort/using proper defense form, and knowing how to play it (understanding position, matchup tendencies, etc.) Blakeney is an above average physical prospect and so it will be his dedication to exerting himself on defense (often an issue for score-first players in his mold) and to learning the game that will define his ceiling as a two way player.
His biggest downside as a prospect is probably that he does need to learn. A lot. On both sides of the ball. In a 1-1 tournament, Blakeney is your guy. If you’re running a system dependent on making quick reads, sharing the ball and opportunities, and working for the best shots, he’ll struggle. For now. He put up gaudy stats in high school solely based off of physical ability and talent (kicked off by scoring 65 in their opening game), but he’ll need to become a true student of the game to continue to excel as he has at the pro-level. A gym-rat who's proven a dedication to improving individually, Blakeney is like a freshman QB with high potential; he just needs reps. Blakeney will play a good amount this year, as he is clearly the Tigers second most talented player, but he certainly will have to perform to keep his spot in the rotation on a team loaded with guards, many of them more senior than he. He'll need every minute he can get, though, to begin to develop a better feel for the team game and show off the improvement in efficiency he’d been working at senior year.
With his head certainly in the right place, I’m all in on Blakeney. He's demonstrated that he clearly has had a work ethic ingrained in him at a young age, and in that respect he has a leg up on many top prospects who aren't’ necessarily singularly focused on their craft at this point in their careers. He’ll have every opportunity to make an impression on NBA scouts, as LSU will be on a national stage like it never has been before. With the freshman talent, and a returning core from last year, expectations will be high for the team, but none held higher then within the Tigers locker room. Likely, Blakeney will benefit from playing with Simmons as well, learning to share the ball and coexist with a talent even greater than his own. Simmons will find him in his spots, and there is a chance that the two could catapult the hardwood Tigers into the national championship conversation, just like Tone predicted.