LSUS’ Blankenship turning blank roster into success story

Check me if I’m wrong, but I don’t seem to recall Mike Krzyzewski ever having to completely rebuild his Duke basketball roster from one year to the next.

Sure, Kentucky loves the one-and-done superstars, but there are still quite a few who are two-and-done. Or four-and-stay.

John Wooden was a great coach at UCLA, but did he ever have to go find an entirely new team while he was winning 10 national championships in 12 years?

Welcome to LSUS basketball coach Kyle Blankenship’s world where, after last season, there was no one living.

“It’s been a challenge,” Blankenship said. “We attacked the recruiting process to try to put together a team that could compete for another conference championship.”

So far, so good.

Now that the Pilots have been together long enough to no longer need to wear name tags to practice, they are off to a 7-2 start.

This has all been a by-product of Covid-19 (big surprise there). College players in all sports are suddenly getting extra years because of the pandemic and it created inequities in rosters. LSUS had six players in 2021-22 who were granted an extra senior season.

At Senior Night last year, LSUS literally did not have enough non-seniors to be part of the ceremony, so everyone had to rotate to help out.

Those few who weren’t seniors either left the program or were asked to leave the program – the Pilots only had seven players at the end of 2021-22 – so this roster adjustment wasn’t much of a shock to Blankenship.

To help ensure he didn’t get in this position again, Blankenship got a mixture of players this year who were granted an extra year, as well as transfers and more high school players – especially in-state ones – than he had in the past.

The best story of all may be the recruitment of Jalen Brooks, who was once a star at Woodlawn, then spent enough time at Southern Arkansas to establish tenure. But this is college sports 2022-style, where no one seems to be out of eligibility until at least a couple of years after you die.

Blankenship has known Brooks since middle school and got a call one day that the 6-foot-5 forward was four-and-done at SAU and wasn’t planning to go back. The LSUS coach immediately began to search Brooks out by phone but had no luck. (Someone under the age of 30 actually turns their phone off?)

So Blankenship went the pre-historic route of communication and sent Brooks an email to see if he was interested in continuing his career at LSUS. And, by the way, how about lunch?

Brooks got the message and the two got together over a platter of extra spicy tenders at Buffalo Wild Wings. Luckily, no one spilled any of the Caribbean Jerk sauce on the signing papers, so Brooks signed up to be a Pilot right there in the parking lot.

“The whole process took about 10 hours,” Blankenship said.

The recruitment process, not the digestion process.

If Brooks keeps playing like he has – he’s the Red River Athletic Conference Player of the Week – Blankenship might be wearing out that BWW Blazin’ Rewards card for future recruiting purposes.

Brooks was at it again Thursday night at the Dock as he led the Pilots in scoring with 21 points as the consonants (LSU-S) won out over the vowels of (LSU-A) 82-67 in a game that featured one of the filthiest dunks you have ever seen by Louisiana Tech transfer Stacey Thomas.

“This is a special win,” Blankenship said afterward. “Any time you play your rival you know you are going to get their best shot. We had to fight like heck to win that game. I guess all I can say is that I’m proud.”

It’s an LSUS roster that literally doesn’t look anything like last year’s, but the results have been impressive through the first month of the season.

“It’s a unique approach that we had to take,” Blankenship said. “It’s been a lot of fun starting from scratch.” 

Contact JJ at johnjamesmarshall@yahoo.com