Toros on Tour : Being Away From Family, Friends Make It Difficult for Former College Standouts Who Are Playing Abroad

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Anthony Blackmon chased his 15-month-old daughter, Alexandra, around the Cal State Dominguez Hills gym last week as he prepared to teach at the school's annual summer basketball camp.

The infant was kicking a basketball on the same court where her father, a 6-foot-6 center, had been so successful as a Toro.

Blackmon, 25, was a two-time All-California Collegiate Athletic Assn. selection who averaged 19.7 points and 9.8 rebounds as a senior in 1988-89. Since completing his collegiate career, he has played professionally in Japan, and on Aug. 3, he will leave his Torrance home to begin his fourth season with the Kawasaki-based Toshiba club.

"I'll really miss her a lot," Blackmon said in reference to his daughter. "I think that's going to be the hardest part."

Two of Blackmon's former Dominguez Hills teammates, Derrick Clark and Will Alexander, are also scheduled to play professionally outside the United States.

Alexander, a 6-foot-3 guard, will go to Mexico unless he lands a spot on an NBA roster, and Clark, a 6-2 point guard, will go to Germany for his first pro season.

Dave Yanai says in his 15 years as Dominguez Hills coach, only two other players--Stan Edmonds and Richie Allen--have competed professionally in other countries. Edmonds, who graduated in 1978, played in France, and Allen, a 1979 graduate, went to Argentina after being cut by the Seattle Supersonics.

Yanai believes Alexander, 27, is one of the best players he has ever coached. Alexander has earned a living playing in Guadalajara for the past three years. Prior to that he played in Chile, Canada, the Philippines and New Zealand.

But Alexander, who lives in Inglewood with his wife and 9-month-old son, is hopeful of earning a tryout with an NBA team later this summer. He has spent the past two months training at Dominguez Hills and Loyola Marymount and is competing in the summer pro league at Inglewood and Redondo Beach highs.

"I won't know for another month what I'm going to do," Alexander said. "I have a lot of different opportunities right now. If it all blows up in my face, I'll be in Mexico."

Alexander was a four-time All-CCAA selection at Dominguez Hills and an NCAA Division II All-American as a senior in 1986-87. He holds 13 individual school records, including most career points (1,766), most points in a season (618) and best scoring average per game (19.9).

"He's probably one of the greatest players in conference history," Yanai said. "He's blessed with tremendous size and speed. He utilized those skills to really help us."

Though Alexander says he enjoys playing for the University of Guadalajara, the Mexican League's No. 1 team, he dislikes the short season, which runs from mid-August to mid-December.

"I really like it down there, and it's great because it's not that far from my family," Alexander said. "But the season is only five months."

Clark, 27, who will leave Aug. 10 for Germany, doesn't have many details about the league or club he is scheduled to play for. He works out daily at Dominguez Hills to prepare for his venture.

Clark played for two seasons at Chapman College before transferring to Dominguez Hills. He was the Toros' starting point guard as a senior in 1988-89 and still holds the school record for career field goal percentage (53.6).

Clark, an All-CCAA selection as a senior, served as Yanai's graduate assistant in 1989-90. Like Blackmon, Clark works at Yanai's youth summer basketball camp.

"I take about 300 shots a day," said Clark, who lives in Carson. "I work with the kids for five hours a day, then I spend three to four hours a day working out. I lift weights, I take vitamins and my confidence level is up."

Said Yanai: "He's in marvelous shape. He was a marvelous player for us. On the defensive end he always took the toughest scoring guard or toughest small forward. He's a great defender and a motivational type of player. He's a very good leader."

Blackmon and Clark train together daily in the Toro gym. Blackmon's season runs from Oct. 23 through March. He plays in a 12-team league that competes within Japan. He won't reveal his salary but said, "I make good money."

One of two American players on Toshiba, all of Blackmon's expenses are paid for, including travel home, a "Western-style apartment" and food. The team has a chef, who he says is an excellent cook.

Last season, Blackmon's wife, Evette, and daughter joined him in Japan. This year they will stay home in Torrance.

"She hated it," said Blackmon, who had surgery in June, 1991, to remove bone chips in his left knee. "She didn't know anybody. She didn't have any friends over there like she does here. And Alex got pretty sick 'cause it snows there."

Ironically, Evette, whose mother is Japanese and father is black, was born in Japan. She came to the United States as a youngster but still has relatives in her native country. Blackmon met his wife's Japanese grandmother last season.

"When she first met me she just looked up at me and laughed," said Blackmon, who speaks limited Japanese. "Then she ran away saying, 'So big, so big' in Japanese."

Blackmon says basketball is a lot different in Japan.

"They don't have a good basketball mentality," he said. "Japanese coaches don't know the game as well. When I first got there, I was used to three-hour practices at Dominguez Hills. They only practiced for two hours and I thought, 'Is that it? Where's the other hour?' "

Yanai, who is Japanese, believes young players such as Blackmon have a difficult time adjusting to any new system.

"I think even going from program to program here, from high school to college or junior college to a four-year college . . . where you have a different coach and different philosophy, is hard. For Anthony, here's a young man just out of college who goes to Japan to play basketball. The transition is not only cultural, but with basketball as well.

"He's been very good with it. I've seen a more mature young man every year. Anthony is a multifaceted player. He can play inside, but he was also one of our better perimeter shooters. He was better than some of our guards."

In Mexico, Alexander also had to adjust, on and off the court. He hated living there during his first season and it took time to adjust to a more-physical style of play. He says basketball in Mexico is a lot rougher than what he grew up playing in the United States.

"There's a lot of contact between players," he said. "A lot!"

Although Alexander enjoys Guadalajara's warm climate and proximity to home, Blackmon still feels like Japan is a world away. He says he may never get used to it.

"The culture is so different," Blackmon said. "I'm black and tall, so people really look at me when I go out. . . . It probably really won't sink in that I've had the opportunity to play professionally because when I come home I try to put Japan away."

He would rather chase his daughter around the gym that he still considers his home court.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
61°