This Future Star Might Be the Steal of the NBA Draft
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because this impact player is hidden in plain sight.
By Matt Foley
In most arenas, the disembodied voices of the game’s announcers merely echo the action on the court, but when Jaron Blossomgame steps onto the floor, in-stadium announcements take on heightened importance. Ronald Blossomgame Sr. has never seen his son dunk. Hell, he’s never seen him at all. But, as Jaron says, “he gets up cheering every time he hears my name.”
On June 22, the world’s best basketball prospects will descend on New York City for the 2017 NBA draft, anxiously waiting for league commissioner Adam Silver to swear them into the most exclusive club in American sports. For some, draft night is a formality — a mile marker on the road to guaranteed riches. But unlike the many “one and done” college superstars and foreign unicorns set to enter the association, Blossomgame, and his future, is up for grabs. From unheralded recruit to major college All-American, the oldest top-50 prospect in the draft is dead set on completing his unlikely rise. Blossomgame, 23, is not the draft’s most heralded prospect, but the members of Team Blossomgame swear he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Jaron is determined to prove people wrong,” says Kacey Martin, Blossomgame’s high school coach at Chattahoochee High School outside Atlanta, Georgia. “Anyone who doubts him only adds fuel to the fire.”
Blossomgame moved from Atlanta to the nearby suburb of Alpharetta at age 9, and he and his older brother, Ronald Jr., got into hoops through daily driveway battles. But it was Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers that changed everything. “I didn’t like basketball much, but then we started watching the Lakers,” says Blossomgame. “That’s what really got me into the game.” Still, a unique family dynamic meant the boys were largely self-taught. Blossomgame’s pastor father, Ronald Sr., is blind. “He lost his eyesight when he was 21,” says Jaron. “As a kid, you don’t quite understand, but he still handled his business and did everything he could to support us.”
By high school, a reed-thin 6-foot-5 Blossomgame showed enough promise to join the prestigious Georgia Stars Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) club. He began with the lowest-level Stars team, but, with the right guidance, a future in basketball started to take shape. Playing for William Steele — Blossomgame’s Stars coach and mentor — meant being constantly challenged, even on the predawn drive to practice. “I used to make him run for a few blocks before he could get in the car,” Steele tells OZY. “That lasted for months, and he never missed a practice. It showed how badly he wanted to improve.”
I understand what my role will be in the NBA, and I’m more seasoned than a lot of the younger players.
Jaron Blossomgame, NBA Draft Prospect
Within a year, alongside current NBA rookies Malik Beasley and Malcolm Brogdon, Blossomgame was headlining a deep roster of Stars talent. “He could have transferred to any high school in Georgia,” says Martin. “But he was loyal to his friends and led our program.” Ultimately, that deep sense of loyalty brought the Atlanta native to Clemson. “I really appreciated how they recruited me,” says Blossomgame, who committed to the Tigers four hours after being offered a scholarship. “They’ve always believed in me, not just when I was playing well.”
Heading into the draft, the main concern surrounding Blossomgame is his age — particularly the lack of time for future improvement. After a breakout junior season that saw him named first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and the conference’s most improved player, Blossomgame entered the 2016 draft. He impressed scouts at the predraft combine, but ultimately chose to return to school to further raise his profile. And while some scouts view his age as a detriment, Blossomgame says maturity and NBA-readiness are ample incentive to seek his services. “I understand what my role will be in the NBA,” he tells OZY. “And I’m more seasoned than a lot of these younger players.”
Surely, readiness is Blossomgame’s key selling point. He is arguably the most physically mature player in this draft, and four years leading Clemson through the treacherous ACC included weekly matchups with some of the nation’s best players, like Duke’s Jayson Tatum. “Entry point is the most important part when it comes to making the NBA,” says Blossomgame, cognizant his first chance could be his last. “This year I’m much more prepared, as a person.”
— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) June 13, 2017
Following the 2017 predraft combine last month, Blossomgame has embarked on a 30-day national tour of sorts, bouncing to 13 cities for private workouts with potential suitors. Add that to seven private workouts with NBA teams in 2016, and most general managers should know what to expect from Blossomgame: a hyper-athletic, explosive slasher who will rebound, defend and embrace a leadership role. Of course, four years of college tape also show a player with a history of leg injuries and an inconsistent outside shot. As DraftExpress NBA scout Josh Riddell writes, Blossomgame’s senior season “didn’t go exactly as planned, with his three-point percentage falling off in a major way.”
Still, 13 private workouts offer a major road to reclamation. If he outperforms a slew of comparable wing players, the rumor mill will be swirling, and with only one buyer needed, a hot prospect’s value can rise like a microcap stock. According to Riddell, a week of solid workouts will “generate more excitement about his pro prospects.”
In a few days, Jaron Blossomgame’s NBA journey will begin. Few players entertain such a wide range of professional possibilities. He could find himself immediately impacting a contender, like his former teammate and surprise 2017 Rookie of the Year candidate Malcolm Brogdon. Or he could be banished to the G-League for more development. Either way, Team Blossomgame will be listening for every score.