Kerry Blackshear Jr.—KJ to his coaches and teammates—wore a smile the whole night long. He was called for traveling…and looked back at the official with a grin that said he knew he’d done wrong but could you blame him? He was knocked on his back and slid out of bounds by the opposing North Florida player…and was cackling as his teammates pulled him up from the floor.
After a 4:30 minute scoring drought, Blackshear went back-to-back with Omar Payne on dunks courtesy of Andrew Nembhard assist. And when Blackshear dropped his 6-10 frame from the rim, it was with a smile that said he was having more fun than even he expected.
For the kid from Orlando who admits he grew up a Florida Gators fan—“like everything Florida Gators”—the chance to play with Mike White’s squad after four years, two as a starter, at Virginia Tech is the dream come true that he’d long forgotten.
“This what I dreamed of as a kid,” said Blackshear after the Gators 89-71 season opening win.
Even in dreams and goals though do situations rarely work to create the night Kerry Blackshear had. He finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, bring his career double-double total to 14. The former 2nd team All-ACC led the Gators in both categories while adding three assists and two steals over 32 minutes.
When University of North Florida coach Matt Driscoll was wrapping up his post game press conference, he had to touch on one last subject. So in his booming, commanding voice, he shared what he saw that night from Kerry Blackshear.
"His DNA from Buzz Williams and what he brings to this team is something you guys needed badly...and he brings it to you instantly...he endures, he's got strength & he's got character."
Blackshear’s head coach agreed.
“My goodness, he’s a heckuva player,” commented head coach Mike White shortly after the game, in such a way that said he’s resigned himself to being continually flabbergasted.
“That’s about what we see. That’s kinda who he is and you know when he plays that many minutes and gets that many touches, it’s not surprising. But I know that we’ll play some high level defenses on the schedule as well and they’ll throw different things at him. I think it’s hard for anyone to average 20 and 10. I don’t foresee that happening. But he is a terrific player and he gives you the opportunity offensively to play a variety of ways.”
Averaging a double-double is in fact difficult but Blackshear is emulating a guy who managed the feat in 38% of his games one season (2006-2007); Al Horford.
"People say I gotta little Al Horford, little bit of Jokiam Noah,” said Blackshear.
“I like watching both those guys. Those guys are effective at different levels on the floor. Al is like a three level scorer, playmaker, good defensively sound big so I watch a lot of him so that’s something I try to emulate in my game a lot.”
For Mike White though, it’s what Blackshear does getting rid of the ball that stands out the most.
“He scores on the interior, he draws fouls, he can shoot it and probably his most underrated aspect is how well he passes the ball. He’s extremely unselfish as well. He passed up a wide open three right in front of our bench.”
And as the lone senior on a team full of primarily underclassmen, that quality of Blackshear’s game has already rubbed off on his younger teammates, just through practice and one game.
“I’ve seen (KJ) doing it, he be getting the shooters open. So I feel like I should take that in, start working on my passing game in practice,” explained freshman Omar Payne.
“I mean I ask for tips on my way throughout games when I see things I’ve never seen before. He’s my main man, I ask KJ, ‘cause he’s been here for a couple years now and he’s a local, he’s from Orlando, so I definitely know about him, heard about him. I usually ask him questions and he always gives me the right advice.”
But of course the ability to score, even from downtown where Blackshear hit a floater on Tuesday night, is what sets this big man apart.
Commented freshman guard Tre Mann, “I don't think nobody does what he does at his height. It's amazing to have somebody like that on your own team, somebody who can play like that. You come off the screen and he pops. I don't think anyone can guard him.”
KJ Blackshear has a permanent smile, a small indication of the fun he’s having. And he, along with the No. 6 Florida Gators, are just getting started.
Said Blackshear, “I think its great and I think it’s getting even better day by day. I think as we practice every day, as we hang out every day, as we play these games, I think its gonna get better.”