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Blaylock’s flight to the Fort Lewis Skyhawks

The long road to the rim for Fort Lewis star Joshua Blaylock

When Fort Lewis College star basketball guard Joshua Blaylock was a student at Lancaster High School in California, he took a class called “Fulfilling Your Potential.” The class was taught by his high school coach Sidney Melvin. When Melvin asked the students to write down the goals they wished to achieve, he took note of something very interesting and unique about Blaylock.

“All the other kids had five, six, seven or more goals they wanted to achieve, and most of those were a bit out of reach,” Melvin said. “Josh only had two goals. He wanted to reach his potential as a basketball player, and he wanted to take care of his mother. That’s it.”

Blaylock, a self-proclaimed one-dimensional high school basketball player, received zero offers to play after graduation. He walked on at nearby Antelope Valley Community College, but quickly realized that it wasn’t the right fit.

“It just didn’t feel like home to me,” Blaylock said. “They didn’t see much in me. I was young and I needed some guidance, but they put me in the wrong classes and didn’t do much for my development.”

It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as he used the time to start fulfilling his off-court goal.

Blaylock’s mother, Connie Watson, worked as a nurse and helped run a daycare center to provide for Blaylock and his two siblings. As the son of a single mother, Blaylock recognized his mom needed some financial help, so he stepped up to the plate and went to work.

“He’s sometimes over-protective of me and he still says, ‘Mom, I don’t want you to be working that much,’” she said. “He used to play ball in the house as a kid, and I never liked that. When I’d take his ball away, he’d roll up a bunch of socks and I’d find socks all over the house. He always loved putting that basketball in the hoop, so I knew he’d keep working at it even though he was staying back to help us.”

Blaylock worked as many hours as he could at the gym and helped his mom run the daycare center. He also joined in the occasional pickup game when the opportunity presented itself. Soon enough, word got out that Joshua Blaylock was turning into quite the ballplayer.

“My kids would tell me ‘Josh is killin’ guys at the gym,’” Melvin said. “I always knew all that young man needed was a chance, because he’s the hardest worker I’ve ever seen.”

Eventually, Blaylock met a friend named Chauncey Suave, who convinced him to go on a month-long recruiting trip to Colorado. Watson was skeptical because her son had never been out of the state. After a meeting with Suave’s mother, she was still skeptical, but her faith led her to believe it was a message from a higher power. It was time for her son to fulfill the other goal.

“I didn’t know what to think,” she said. “But when I met this woman, I just got the feeling that this was the Lord at work.”

The boys ended up at an open gym at Otero Junior College in La Junta. The coach at the time was current Chadron State head coach Houston Reed, who immediately took notice of what Blaylock was doing against what were supposed to be the best players in the gym.

“I couldn’t keep my eyes off the kid, and he was eating these (Division I) guys for breakfast,” Reed said. “After watching this young man handle the ball and drill a couple step-back jumpers, I took him in my office, shut the door and said, ‘How do you not have a school, brother? Tell me your story.’”

After sharing his struggle, Reed made the offer and Blaylock was on his way.

“I love Coach Reed,” Blaylock said. “He was the only guy who gave me a chance. I got my toughness playing for Coach Reed.”

Blaylock used the one year he spent at Otero as a showcase, and he had his heart set on playing for Metro State in Denver. The Roadrunners took a pass, though, and Fort Lewis associate head coach Daniel Steffensen began aggressively recruiting.

“Danny went to Otero and played for me, too, so he knew how to get Josh’s attention,” Reed said. “Eventually, Coach Pietrack started driving out here, five or six hours in the car, just to spend 45 minutes with Josh.”

Colorado Mesa and Northwestern State also showed interest in Blaylock, but Pietrack’s relentless effort, combined with numerous phone calls to Watson, sealed the deal.

“The Mesa coach never called me and the people from Oklahoma only called once,” she said. “Mr. Pietrack called me many times and even offered to drive all the way here to see me. It was clear where my son should go, and Josh felt the same way.”

Pietrack sold Blaylock on the fact that Fort Lewis won’t ever be home, but it could be his basketball home. After numerous visits from Pietrack and Steffensen, Blaylock bought in.

“Coach Pietrack was right,” he said. “Fort Lewis feels like home for me, and it has since I first came here. I’ll always miss Cali, but this is my second home.”

Pietrack also made a deal with Reed, giving his word to name his first son after the coach if he was able to convince Blaylock to go to Fort Lewis.

“That’s a true story,” Reed said. “And I’m holding him to that.”

It didn’t take long for Blaylock to turn heads in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. He led the 2015-16 Skyhawks to a school-record 28 wins and a regular-season RMAC title. The Skyhawks also reached their highest national ranking in program history at No. 4. Since Blaylock’s arrival, the Skyhawks are a ridiculous 50-7 overall, and he’s never lost a game on his home court.

When the lefty buried two free throws to beat Colorado Mines in the final seconds of the RMAC Shootout title game at Whalen Gymnasium a year ago, fans stormed the court to swarm their hero, but what happened next spoke volumes about Blaylock.

“There was a picture in the paper that tells you how selfless Joshua Blaylock is,” Pietrack said. “He just tore through the league in his first year here. He almost single-handedly led the comeback against Mines to win the title game, and, if you look at the picture, he was so selfless when they announced him as the MVP that his teammates had to push him out there. He wanted all of them to go. That’s Joshua Blaylock.”

Coming off his fantastic first season at FLC, Blaylock was named the RMAC’s Preseason Player of the Year and has earned that title night after night. His 19.1 points per game average is one-tenth of a point behind league leader Gokul Natesan from Colorado Mines, who will come to town with the No. 25 Orediggers Friday for another game against the No. 12 Skyhawks with championship implications. New rankings will be released Tuesday, and Friday’s game could become a top-20 showdown.

Win or lose, Blaylock has achieved the two goals he wrote down, and he’s certainly fulfilled his potential.

“When it’s all said and done, there won’t be a Mount Rushmore of Fort Lewis College basketball without Josh Blaylock,” Pietrack said. “At the very least, he will play professional basketball overseas for as long as his body will allow.”

That seems to be the opinion of all the important people he’s met along the way, including Melvin, and the only man who gave him a chance when he needed it most – Coach Reed.

“I can’t put into words how proud I am of that young man,” Reed said as he choked back emotions. “I just can’t do it. He’s like a son to me and, the best part is, after all he’s been through and all he has done at Fort Lewis, he’s just getting started.”

jfries@durangoherald.com

Feb 13, 2017
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