I love inspirational story lines in movies, music and books. I'm also moved by the lives of people who have to persevere and work hard in order to reach their destiny. Over the years we have worked with many athletes and have been moved by each and everyone of them on some level. When young athletes sign up to work with Xtreme Heat Sports we don't make them any promises, we simply let them know that if they are willing to work hard success will follow! Most times in life to reach the level of success we all want requires sacrifice. Sacrifice of your time, your family, or even possessions and material things. Its a challenge in itself to let go of things or people you love or feel you need in order to stay focused on your success path, it can be a struggle! Which leads me to talk about our featured athlete of this week, Mr. Craig Blackmon of Houston Texas. I can't say enough about this young man. He has truly won my heart and respect throughout the years. Craig is one of our special athletes that has been with Xtreme Heat Sports for a few years now. I have watched him grow as a player and as an individual. I have witnessed him spend his last dollar to attend a tryout, I have sat with him and listened to him talk about how much he loves and believes in God, he has touched my heart when he had to work a job and find the time to workout and train, I was there when he traveled to a different city to stay there in order to catch the eyes of Professional coaches in the NBA D-League. I remember getting a phone call from him one day and heard his excitement when he had great news to share. The news was that finally he was getting a break, his prayers had been answered. He was able to get a free round-trip ticket to Europe so that he could participate in a training program in Serbia! Wow!! I think I was more excited than he was about it. Craig didn't ask for handouts, he worked and saved his money so that he could go and make another attempt at his dream. I watched this kid get disappointed too many times and every time it broke my heart because I knew how bad he wanted it and how hard he was working. Since that trip Craig has been all over Europe and is currently playing with team KB Drita. He is doing great things there. He is averaging 20+ points, he made the All-Star team and was MVP of the All-Star game, he has had big games of scoring 30pts, the fans love him, the team loves him and he is an INSPIRATION to everyone he comes in contact with, his love and energy is contagious. This is just the beginning for him, he has dreams of playing in the NBA and at this rate who knows where he will end up. Craig sat with me to talk about his journey:
What drives you to want to play pro ball?
I love playing the game of basketball, nothing else gives me a feeling like it. The hard work you put in the gym, the brotherhood from your teammates, and the satisfaction you get from winning, that’s what drives me.
How hard has this Journey has been?
Wow, hard would be an understatement to say the least. It has been a very challenging journey. I have had the odds stacked against me from day one. I didn’t get to finish my college career and what little I had wasn't worth mentioning so I had to get on my grind, and put a lot of faith in God. So that’s what I did and what I am continuing to do.
What obstacles have you encountered along the way?
Like I said earlier I have had a long road, even dating back to high school, I was one of those knuckle headed kids who thought school wasn't a factor, I felt basketball alone would get me a scholarship. Well I found out the hard way you must give as much attention to your grades as basketball, so I didn't go to some big time school. In college I still faced adversity with it, which caused me to transfer, and in turn I ended my career premature. I knew it was going to be hard to make it pro with little college experience, but I had a dream and wasn't going to let that stop me, I started training and going to camps all over the country to get my name out there. I finally got me some feedback, I was on my way, and then I tore my ACL on a skiing trip. That was the biggest test, but 6 months later, with the grace of God and dedicated rehab I came back and better than ever.
So how did you get to KB-Drita?
Well I was playing in the UBA, a minor league in the states and I was on-line one day and read about a basketball academy in Serbia. I had never been overseas before, but I was always told if you want to make it maybe you should go over there....so I was thinking wow maybe I should. At the time I was working at a restaurant at night and training during the day. So I decided to pick up extra shifts so I can pay for the camp. I was working everyday to make the money, but with bills and expenses it seem impossible with the camp fee of $1000 and a $1200 plane ticket, not to mention the job wasn't going all that great. So my last day in training at work I had to stay later with my trainer I was following, and it was almost closing time and our last table walk in and he said I could take the table so I said ok great. I walk over to the table of 4, two girls and two guys, like a double date, around 28 to 35 I'd say. Well me and one guy got to talking and he was a huge sports fan and he asked me did I ever play and I said "yeah I play now actually just trying to make some money to get to Europe and play" we talked a bit more and at the end of the meal he asked, how much I was short, I laughed it off and didn't think much of it but then he said, I will buy you a plane ticket if its your dream and you are serious about what you do. I almost lost my mind, but God had sent an angel in to help me in need. A few weeks later I was in Europe! But the journey wasn't smooth sailing, the academy was in turmoil and players really wasn't getting the opportunities promised but I figured hey I was in Europe I have to make the most of it! I started to find teams and coaches myself and meet with them and ask for workouts, even though I got a lot of static I learned a lot about the European game and culture. After that I headed back to the states because it was nearing the end of the season and summer time. I had a credit with the airlines and I told myself if I had another chance I would go back to Europe. I ended up signing with a team from Serbia but it was a very vague contract and like most wasn’t guaranteed, so I headed back to begin preseason, only to find out the team has no money and can’t afford me. So I bounced around working out with different teams, finally I got a call from the director at KB Drita. I had to take a bus for 5 hours and a plane to get to Kosovo but it was all worth it.
What is it like living in Europe?
European life is great to me, I actually enjoy the different cultures, this is my third country I have lived in and I have really grown accustom to the lifestyle. You have to open your mind to appreciate it.
What is your ultimate goal in life?
My ultimate goal in life is to please God and win a NBA or Euroleague Championship. Notice I said win, I don’t just want to make it to the league or a top team in Europe I want to become one of the greatest to ever play. That is my ultimate goal.
Who or what motivates you to work so hard?
My biggest motivation is my self then my family. I feel as if I have to motivate myself because you have so many people that doubt you and point fingers you have to push past it within your own self and believe you can accomplish any task or goal you have ahead if you have faith in God and faith in yourself.
What are 3 things you would want a coach or scout to know and expect of you as a player?
Three things I would want a coach to know about me is, I want to win more than anything else, and I am committed to making sure whatever is needed to be done to win I will be! Also I want coaches to know my biggest quality is leadership, I lead by example, from conditioning, to eating right, to playing hard, I always be the example of how a professional should carry himself. The last thing would be, I play for the love of the game still, and many players get caught up in dollar signs and fame. I am still a kid who just loves to compete and play the game of basketball.
What tips would you give young athletes chasing the same dream?
I would tell all young athletes on this journey to be dedicated, understand that it is not always about your skills or how many points you can score its about what are you wiling to do to make your dreams a reality. Also stay focused, don’t let the distractions take you from your path, because there will be many. Lastly, don’t ever lose sight of why you started playing basketball, not one of us got paid the first time we picked up a ball, when you would play outside in the park or in your driveway, it was pure love, you have to always remember that and remain humble.
Craig Blackmon has been featured in articles in Europe http://borozani.com/artikulli/blackmon-snajperi-i-nates and you can keep up with his stats on EuroBasket.com as well as on Xheat's Facebook Fan page XTREME HEAT SPORTS MANAGEMENT. We are excited for him and look forward to what's coming next. You can see his profile on www.xtremeheatsportsmgnt.net. Keep your ears and eyes open for Craig Blackmon! He is definitely on his way......
Thanks for the ride Craig we love you!!!!
Craig Blackmon Team KB Drita Highlights (#8)