Perris Blackwell was waiting shyly in the corner under the basket, waiting for some member of the press to be in his face about questions that are too often overdone and repetitive.
Like a boy separated from his mother in the grocery store, Blackwell looked around unsure of what to do or what he should be ready for.
Holding a basketball in one hand, Blackwell took a step out onto the court and began to bounce the ball off the back board into the net.
He was upset. Rex Walters, Head Coach of USF’s Mens Basketball team, had just chewed him out not fifteen minutes ago during the team’s screening of game film for not rebounding and making enough plays.
It was unusual for Blackwell to be in a bad mood. Normally, Blackwell was light-hearted, full of hopes and big dreams, and even somewhat goofy, but always honest and a hard-worker. Simply, nothing more than a BIG joyful kid, as the only other thing he really enjoyed other than basketball were comics and cartoons.
Whatever Walters told Blackwell had put the 6’ 9” inch and 240-pound forward into a funk.
Blackwell practically lived the game of basketball. It was what he knew and all he ever cared to know. He dreamt, like all other young basketball players, of someday being an NBA player. But the fame and publicity didn’t matter. All that mattered was playing the game and winning.
He fit well into Walters’ system that demanded team-oriented players with no room for big egos and prima donnas. Every player was equal and shared in the commitment and work it took to win.
All week long preparing for USF’s opening night, Head Coach Walters appeared to be in a maddening mood. His yelling throughout practice “we give up no lay-ups” was impossible to miss as he shouted it red in the face more than a thousand times.
Blackwell plodded along, up and down the court trying to keep the opposition out of the paint, while also keeping up with his speedy offense that was outfitted with the likes of Michael Williams, Avery Johnson and Cody Doolin.
As one of USF’s biggest and most physical players on the team, Blackwell’s job was obvious: defend the key on defense, occupy the key on offense, box out the opposition, and rebound the ball.
Though the jobs orders were simple, execution of those orders would not be so easy. For an athlete, especially a basketball player, Blackwell had always been slightly clumsy from the time he was a kid. His large build allowed him to bully other players around on the court and makes him a weapon in the post. But his size and weight often slowed him down and made it difficult for him to maintain hang time whilst air born.
Blackwell transitioned like Shaq and rebounded rarely. While the rest of USF’s game would be pushing harder and harder forward to put pressure on the opposition, Blackwell would always be a few strides behind. And when the ball went up, Blackwell would often be looking the wrong way, not at all present in the area of the key, or shorter than the next guys reach.
During practice, Head Coach Walters addressed the issue and worked the transition and rebound game for the entire week.
The opening game of the season arrived with an excited crowd of students. The game was well publicized and received a warm reception from the underclassmen students that inhabited the dorms, mostly excited for their first college basketball game.
The Dons were hosting the 2011 Hilltop Challenge dubbed the “Opening Act” as it was the first basketball game of the season as well as the first game for Athletic Director Scott Sidwell. The Dons would tip off against North Dakota State in the first game of the tournament that also included Northern Arizona University and University of Louisiana Lafayette.
Blackwell paced the Dons against North Dakota putting up a career and game high 23 points.