Watching film of Kerry Blackshear can tell you a lot but to get the best possible info about him and his game I reached out Matej Sis who knows Blackshear and the Virginia Tech program as well as anyone. He dropped some amazing knowledge and let us all know what we can expect from the big man. You can follow him on Twitter at @MatejS247.
EF: Hey Matej, thank you for your time, I really appreciate getting some insight into Kerry Blackshear from someone who covered him at Virginia Tech. Can you first tell everyone who you are and what you do?
MS: My name is Matej Sis. I work for the Virginia Tech site for 247Sports as part of the CBS Sports Network, known as VTScoop. I cover football, basketball, and recruiting news for the site.
EF: Virginia Tech was a super fun basketball team this year that had really good success. Was there any thought during the season that Blackshear was going to leave afterwards or was it not until after the season ended that it became a possibility?
MS: I would say most people did not expect Kerry Blackshear Jr. to depart the program. It’s easy to get caught up in a historic season and not think of the off-season attrition. It wasn’t a secret that Buzz Williams was eyeing a return closer to home, at Texas A&M, which obviously would start a chain reaction. After the heart-breaking loss to Duke in the Sweet 16, pieces began to move quickly. The coaching staff left, three key seniors graduated, Nickeil Alexander-Walker opted to enter the NBA Draft, and thus Blackshear Jr. was isolated in Blacksburg. At the point, it seemed inevitable that Blackshear Jr. would evaluate all his options outside Virginia Tech.
EF: Like you mentioned the coaching staff moving on, the seniors graduating, and NAW going to the draft hurt the chances of Blackshear returning but once he entered the portal was there any optimism among the fan base that he would return? Or did it seem like a certainty he’d move on?
MS: Most of the fan base was cautiously optimism that Blackshear Jr. would stay in Blacksburg, which is surprising given the caliber of programs recruiting him. Once he withdrew from the draft, the new coaching staff centered around Mike Young did everything in their power to present Virginia Tech as the perfect place for him. He still has a lot of ties to the team in former teammates and a great relationship with retained assistant coach Christian Webster. He’s an extremely bright man with a serious interest in completing his graduate degree, offered at Virginia Tech as well. The only two factors missing were a competitive team and national exposure. Though the Hokies had many attributes in their favor, the major SEC programs offered better teams and more national exposure than a rebuilding Virginia Tech program.
EF: The response from Hokies fans has been extremely respectful towards Blackshear and there doesn’t seem to be any anger or bitterness towards him leaving. How does he rank amongst the most-liked Virginia Tech players of recent history and what made him so popular?
MS: Under Buzz Williams, the Virginia Tech Hokies went from 2-16 in ACC play in his first season to a Sweet 16 berth in his last. These were unprecedented heights for the program after years of mediocrity. Kerry Blackshear Jr. is a major reason for the emergence of Virginia Tech on a national level. He was a quiet leader and gave everything he had to build up the program. While many fans are upset that their favorite player is heading elsewhere, they understand it’s about making the NBA and continuing to win, where Florida offers him the best chance of those goals. The fans will support their former players for what they have done as well as commend him for attempting to reach his dreams.
EF: Everything I have seen from Virginia Tech fans has been extremely classy and I think this situation has shown just how good the fan base it. In terms of Blackshear’s game on the court, how would you describe him?
MS: He’s a do-it-all, modern day college big and a coach’s dream. At 6-10 and 260-pounds he is a capable post defender and excellent defensive rebounder. His most exciting attributes come on the offensive end. At Virginia Tech he was forced to develop a perimeter game due to floor spacing, though admittedly he operates at his best in the low post. He is extremely crafty and can dribble penetrate which not a lot of big men can do in college. He’s an excellent finisher and an under-appreciated passer. In his final season at Virginia Tech, Blackshear was tasked with generating the offense when Justin Robinson was sidelined due to injury. The ball went through him and he exploded his numbers (18 PPG, 8 RPG, 3 APG) in the most challenging part of the ACC slate. Perhaps his most important attribute in his durability and availability. He was the only player above 6’5” on the roster last season and was forced to play nearly every single minute. In the beginning of his career he was foul prone, but because of the dire need for him he was able to get rid of the careless fouls, while maintaining his productivity.
EF: I love that you pointed out his durability, something that often gets underrated nowadays and shows his toughness. Ultimately, why do you think Blackshear didn’t get the response he wanted from NBA teams and why did he return to college? What is something you think he needs to work on?
MS: Blackshear Jr. didn’t really explode until this past season. He’s an excellent college basketball player, but as a fifth year player he needs to show it consistently at the highest level. The downside to his game is his average athleticism by NBA standards. He doesn’t fit the mold of an extremely athletic young center with raw traits. He’s a developed big man that can do a bit of everything at a high level, but doesn’t necessarily excel at one single trait. I believe his decision to play for Florida will highlight his desire to win, lead, and produce at the highest level (both ACC and SEC—perhaps deep in the NCAA Tournament as well). The NBA is always looking for consistent big men and this is his final audition to catapult himself into a draft pick.
EF: One thing that has been an interesting study for me as I go through some Blackshear film is his 3-point shot. He has a decent looking stroke but he didn’t take a lot of attempts and only converted 33% of them. Are you a believer in his jump shot or do you think he should stay down on the block where he has really dominated?
MS: Blackshear’s game was aided by the fact opponents respected him on the perimeter. He could fall back to the three-point line and use his passing ability to open up the defense. I believe it’s important he is used in the pick and roll game, where he excels by driving the lane. He can also work as a low post player strictly and work inside out. Part of the reason he was such a hot commodity on the transfer market is that versatility in his offensive game. I can’t really speak to Florida’s offensive game plan, but I can say KBJ will be able to adapt to it whether it’s as a pick and roll 5 or a low post presence with the floor spaced.
EF: Justin Robinson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker were such good passers out of the pick and roll and it was great to see them operate with Blackshear. Andrew Nembhard should be able to distribute at a similar level and Blackshear should remain a major roll threat. You mentioned earlier that Blackshear had a big leap this last summer and played far and away his best basketball this season. Do you think he can make another jump or do you expect him to have another season similar to the last (which, of course, would still be great!)?
MS: It all depends on how he is used in the system. I truly believe he is capable of a 20-10-4 split on a nightly basis. A lot of that depends on the rotation of big-men and his usage rates. I’m not sure how much higher he can elevate his game, but he should produce at an All-SEC level. He showed he could accomplish big numbers as a number three option behind Robinson and Alexander-Walker but he was best as the number one option. Point being, he will be able to produce at a high level no matter what role he plays.
EF: Getting 10 boards a game is a legitimate possibility for Blackshear and he really dominated the glass last season for you guys. What makes him such a good rebounder?
MS: I’m a firm believer that if you aren’t as athletic as other players in the league you must develop your game in the nitty-gritty areas. Blackshear Jr. clearly has the size, but his movement is key when he rebounds. He finds the areas on the floor where he needs to be and is well coached in the regard. He is a very instinctual player that simply has a nose for securing the rebound. Part of the culture at Virginia Tech was toughness, which he fully embodies. It may not be a tangible quality you can point to, but he’s consistent on the boards nonetheless.
EF: Thank you so much for doing this. I know talking so glowingly about a player the team you cover just lost may not have been the most fun thing ever but I really, really appreciate the insight from someone who really knows his game. Is there any last info you’d give to Gators fans who get to watch Blackshear next season?
MS: Yes actually—this is very important. Kerry Blackshear Jr. walks with a “hitch” meaning one foot is always on it’s toes while the other is planted. This is how he grew up waling and it has always worked for him. So if you see him “limping” it’s his walk, not an injury. Commentators are quick to point it out on broadcasts, but I assure you everything is fine and well. I mean after all if it works—who cares? On a more serious note—Kerry Blackshear Jr. is an amazing person and player. I’ve been fortunate enough to cover him for four years. Though he won’t be on campus for very long, rest assured he will do everything in his power to represent UF in the right light and win as many games as possible.
EF: That’s awesome, I really appreciate you doing this! Your insight was tremendous and I think Gator fans will really appreciate the knowledge from someone more familiar with his game than anyone.
MS: No worries at all. Glad I could contribute!