Rainbows' Blackett on a roll
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
With his ability to play three positions small forward, power forward and center Blackett has emerged as the Rainbow Warriors' top reserve.
He will play that role tonight when the Rainbow Warriors host Texas-El Paso in a Western Athletic Conference game at the Stan Sheriff Center.
"If one of our big guys comes out, he goes in and there's no dropoff at all," Hawai'i head coach Riley Wallace said. "He's finally getting comfortable with his role, so his abilities are starting to show."
Playing three positions is nothing new to Blackett. He does it on a daily basis as a basketball player, a husband and an honor student.
"You would think it would complicate each other," he said. "But I think being married makes the other two easier."
Basketball has always come easy for Blackett. Well, at least until the start of this season.
He was a highly touted player at Salt Lake Community College (Utah) the last two seasons. He chose Hawai'i over Brigham Young, Creighton, Fresno State, Nevada and UTEP.
"Hawai'i was by far the best fit," Blackett said.
Still, he and his wife, Lindsey, had a hard time fitting in. Lindsey got homesick after only a few weeks in Honolulu.
"I think I was the burden on Jeff for a while," she said. "I missed my family. I was real emotional, and I let him know about it every day. Now that I think about it, that's not an easy thing to deal with."
Blackett persevered both on the court and at home.
Although he was a small forward in junior college, he practiced mostly at power forward with the 'Bows. What's more, he had a painful foot injury during the early weeks of practice.
"It just took a while to adjust," he said. "But I'm getting it now."
Blackett is 6 feet 8 and a lithe 210 pounds, but is one of the strongest players on the team he can bench-press 260 pounds. He is also one of the team's best jumpers, and is not afraid to dunk the ball, any time, anywhere.
"You have to have that mentality," he said. "I know a lot of people are surprised that I do go hard like that, but that's my advantage."
Wallace added: "He has a great feel for the game. He has a nice shot, he's got those long arms that help him defend, and he rebounds as well as anybody we have."
Those skills came together when Hawai'i went 3-0 on its 11-day road trip. In those three games, Blackett averaged 11.3 points and 5.0 rebounds per game while shooting 12 of 19 from the field (.632).
Included in that trip was a career-high 19 points against San Jose State, and a career-high 11 rebounds against Southern Methodist.
Lindsey, who has brothers playing Division I basketball at Wyoming and Idaho State, said she went from homesick to just sick after watching her husband struggle earlier this season.
"I was so frustrated for him," she said. "He would come home and we'd have these talks. I'd get mad at him because I know how good he is and he wasn't playing like it."
Now, he is. Wallace cited Blackett's performance off the bench as one of the keys to UH's road success.
Blackett is quick to credit Lindsey. "Her sacrifices have been bigger than mine," he said.
In particular, she is delaying her college education for now. She works full-time at Central Pacific Bank so that they can make their monthly rent.
"I'm growing up every day," said Lindsey, 19 (Jeff is 23).
Actually, they've been growing together since getting married in June of 2002. They met because Jeff played on various basketball teams with three of Lindsey's brothers while growing up in Utah. The Blackett family was raised in Ogden; Lindsey's family, which includes 10 siblings, is from Orem.
"I grew up in a basketball family, so I know how important this is to Jeff," she said.
They are also members of the Mormon Church. After high school, Jeff served a two-year mission in Russia.
"It was a really poor area," he said. "After that, I've come to appreciate a lot of things."
After a slow start, all three of his daily positions are now flourishing. Blackett got a 3.0 grade-point average last semester. Perhaps most important, he and Lindsey have embraced Hawai'i.
"Christmas morning, we woke up and it was sunny and we said 'Where are we?' " Lindsey said. "But now, we love it. We go to the beach every chance we get."
Miner adjustments: UTEP arrived in Honolulu Monday and has practiced three times in preparation for tonight's game.
"I've asked a lot of people what the best way to approach the trip is and nobody has a very good answer," UTEP head coach Billy Gillispie said. "The biggest obstacle is not the trip; the biggest obstacle is how good the University of Hawai'i is."
First 100 free: The first 100 University of Hawai'i students to arrive for tonight's game will receive free admission to an upper level seat. The same policy will be in place for all remaining home games (the free tickets can be obtained only on the day of each game).
Reach Dayton Morinaga at firstname.lastname@example.org or 535-8101.