Anthony Blackmon has received his share of attention this season.
The senior center at Cal State Dominguez Hills was the subject of a half-time radio talk show in a game at Sonoma State, front-page in the sports pages of the Bakersfield Californian and the reason for a mailer sent out this week to Division II coaches by Dominguez Hills officials touting him as "a candidate for All-American recognition."
He has been scouted by at least three professional basketball teams because he has led the 19-8 Toros in scoring and rebounding 17 times this season.
At this point in his career, could candidate be an unnecessary word for the 6-foot-7 post who leads the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. in scoring and rebounding? He's been named to the first team All-Western Region team for the second consecutive year, and because he has been voted CCAA Player of the Week three times this season, he is expected to be a unanimous choice as the conference most valuable player when the coaches vote today.
Blackmon's credentials will be on the line tonight at 6 when the Toros open the CCAA tournament at Riverside City College against Chapman, and the big senior from L.A. Wilson High insists the Toros can shake the mini-doldrums they had in losing two of their last three games.
"The main thing is to focus on what we have to do to win (the tournament) outright," he said. "In a game like this, records don't mean much."
Chapman (16-11), the hottest team in the conference, has won four consecutive games, including an upset victory over visiting Bakersfield last week, a victory that propelled it into a third-place tie with the Roadrunners and gained the right to meet Dominguez Hills. In two previous meetings Dominguez Hills had easy times in wins over the much more physical basketball style of the Panthers.
But "this is a new season," Blackmon asserted. "Everyone is pumped up and ready to go out and win. We can't take Chapman for granted."
The winner plays Saturday night against the winner of the Bakersfield-Riverside contest at 8 tonight. Riverside (23-4) is ranked sixth in the nation. Dominguez Hills is 19th.
There's no doubt Blackmon and his teammates would have preferred to play Bakersfield (20-6) tonight, especially since it was the Roadrunners' 52-50 upset win Feb. 23 that cost Dominguez Hills a chance to host the postseason tournament.
"No question. We can play with anybody," Blackmon said. "As for Bakersfield, we'd love to play them again."
Dominguez Hills had to settle for second place, a game behind Riverside, after blowing a 10-point lead in the Feb 23 game. Earlier in the year the Toros beat Bakersfield, 68-56.
Losing seemingly safe leads has plagued the Toros this year, which Blackmon blames on complacency.
"We come out in the second half with those leads and we play not to lose," he said. "As a team we forget how we got those leads. You have to attack the other team."
Blackmon said the Toros were "too tentative" in the Bakersfield loss, but there have been other incidents.
Dominguez Hills led NAIA power Biola University by 14 points in its opener and lost in double overtime, 69-67, saw a 15-point spread disappear in a 66-63 overtime loss to hapless Cal Lutheran, blew a 10-point lead and lost to Riverside, 59-58, in their first meeting and coughed up a 14-point margin but hung on to win the rematch, 72-67, in overtime. In the second game with visiting Bakersfield, the Toros led by 10 points midway through the second half but did not score in the final 4:21.
Because the Toros work so hard on defense (they are ranked third in the nation), some have suggested that the team has trouble maintaining its concentration at both ends of the floor for 40 minutes. That is not true, according to Blackmon.
"All season I feel we have been the better-conditioned team," he said.
Blackmon does not appear to dominate games like another Toro standout, William Alexander, who was the CCAA Co-MVP in 1987. Alexander was a leaper who could jump over people, a power player who wanted the ball in the paint. Blackmon is more subtle and so his presence doesn't always stand out. Then you look at the box score at the conclusion of the game and it reminds you of what a force he has been. In four seasons at the school he has become its second-leading scorer behind Alexander and, with 25 rebounds last week, the Toros' top rebounder of all time.
Three inches taller than Alexander, Blackmon is most comfortable off the dribble, preferring to get a lot of his 19.3 points a game from the top of the key. He seems most comfortable under the basket on defense, where many of his 9.9 rebounds a game come from.
"I don't do too many things that look flashy," he said, "I just try to be consistent."
As for his rapidly rising star status, a pair of wins this weekend would virtually assure that the candidate will become an All-American.