There’s no shot clock here.

There are no 6-foot-7 defenders or Maize Rage-like crowds.

No referees, either.

The coach doesn’t wear collared shirts, he dribbles a
basketball — panache is welcome.

Here, 12 points are enough to win and some are alley-oops off
the backboard. Here, you can soar above the competition …
even wearing ankle weights.

The basketball courts at Michigan’s Central Campus
Recreational Building (CCRB) have to be the last place LaVell
Blanchard wants to be right now.

Four years ago, playing in the NBA was a lucid dream for the
Michigan basketball standout. Smack in the middle of the
high-school-jumping era of McGrady, Kobe and LeBron, the dream must
have been there almost every night.

“I don’t even think about that, I think of where
I’m at right now,” said Blanchard about his decision
not to jump early to the NBA. “If you look back to the past,
you can’t change anything. So you just go out there and try
to improve what you can right now. All of the ‘ifs’ and
‘ands’ and ‘buts’ about the past, what good
do they do?”

Blanchard was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year in
high school, beating out the likes of current NBA players Carlos
Boozer, Jason Richardson and Caron Butler. McDonald’s honored
him as an All-American, and Duke recruited him to play basketball.
But the Ann Arbor native chose to stay home, where during four
seasons, he experienced teammate Jamal Crawford’s early exit
to the NBA, a coaching change, teammates’ scandals, playing
out-of-position as a power-forward, never playing in the NCAA
Tournament, an 0-6 start and post-season sanctions during his
senior year. He might have been drafted in to the NBA had he left
Michigan after his junior year, when The Sporting News ranked him
as the No. 1 shooting guard prospect in its NBA pre-season issue.
Through it all, despite rumors of leaving, Blanchard never
outwardly protested or showed disdain; he remained loyal to the
Maize and Blue.

“I don’t think there were any low-points (during my
time at Michigan), I think they were all high because of the
experiences that I had, the friends I made, the people that I got
acquainted with,” Blanchard said. “The program itself,
as a team and family has all been positive.”

After graduating in 2003, Blanchard tested his game at pre-draft
camps. ESPN draft guru Chad Ford ranked him ahead of current Laker
Luke Walton on his ‘Top 15 Small Forwards’ list. But,
there aren’t many current NBA superstars with the same amount
of college experience Blanchard has — four years. In the past
10 years, just two four-year Michigan basketball players have been
drafted into the NBA — Jimmy King and Maceo Baston; both
second round picks are no longer on NBA rosters.

Undrafted, Blanchard went to Italy last fall and played with
team Reggio Calabria for one season, averaging 7.4 points in 13
minutes per game.

And now Blanchard is home, back where he started. Except this
time, he’s the salesman.

“Some (NBA) teams have showed some attention, so right now
I’m just trying to stay in shape and be ready for whatever
happens,” said Blanchard. “You prepare for a situation
that arises and you hope for the best.”

Right now, reality is the CCRB on spring afternoons. It’s
here where Blanchard abuses the rims and unsuspecting ballers
looking for a game. He effortlessly makes the net dance with
turnaround jumpers. He passes too. He gets your attention with
those rim-roaring dunks, ankle-weights strapped on tight;
there’s no crowd-reaction to hush those exclamation
points.

“Right now, I’m just trying to stay in shape,
ball-handling and everything,” Blanchard said. “Just
play. Go out there and have fun, that’s the main goal out
there. You never can be satisfied with any part of your game so
what you do is go out there and work on every part of your game and
see what happens.”

And if nothing works out in the summer leagues, Blanchard will
head back overseas to play basketball.

But he’s no stranger to surmounting odds. His high school
team, Ann Arbor Pioneer, won just one game during his freshman
year. By graduation, Blanchard was a state champion. In
Blanchard’s last season at Michigan, he was the catalyst for
13 consecutive wins after a 0-6 start. And through it all, he
doesn’t have any regrets about his Michigan career.

Any?

“Definitely not, I think it was a great experience,”
Blanchard said. “If I had to do it again, I’d do it
again.”

Michigan taught Blanchard that even Superman is mortal; it
taught life lessons instead of realizing dreams. And for someone so
driven, so humble, there has to be disappointment. He’s
maintained the “I’m happy with how everything worked
out” attitude to the media and his fans, and they may believe
him.

But the rims at the CCRB don’t.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.