Dig Baton Rouge

Back for more: Antonio Blakeney to thrive as ‘The Guy in LSU offense next season

Ben Simmons dictated headlines for the LSU basketball team in the 2015-16 season.

It’s not difficult to understand why. Simmons is a well-known, brand name player who will likely be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft this June.

But let me fill you in on a dirty little secret that most fans don’t realize – Simmons wasn’t even the Tigers’ most productive offensive player in the final month of the season.

That title belonged to fellow five-star freshman Antonio Blakeney, who averaged 19.8 points per game in LSU’s final seven contests – a number that trumps the 18.6 points per game that Simmons accumulated.

With Simmons and Tim Quarterman off to the NBA and the mainstream lights now hidden from the Tigers’ program in 2016-17, I have another secret to for LSU basketball fans.

Blakeney’s decision to return to school for his sophomore season was a good – nay – a great one.

And here’s one more secret. Next season, the young man will blossom into an absolute star.

When Blakeney arrived at LSU, he entered the program with a ton of fanfare.

A five-star prospect out of Orlando, Blakeney was rated as the No. 13 player in the country by Rivals.com – a sort-of Scottie Pippen to the Michael Jordan that Ben Simmons was expected to become for LSU.

But it didn’t pan out – at least not early.

In high school, Blakeney was a thoroughbred – a man amongst boys.

At the college level, he had to deal with being a second (or sometimes third or fourth) option for the first time in his career.

It’s a role that Blakeney accepted, but didn’t exactly execute well early in the season.

In a 10-game stretch from Nov. 30 – Jan. 9, Blakeney scored just 57 combined points and was 21-of-70 from the field. In six of those games, he didn’t make a single 3-pointer – arguably his biggest weapon on the floor.

As the season went on Blakeney continued to blossom, and by the second-half of SEC play, he started to come into his own.

In LSU’s final 15 games, Blakeney found his groove in the college game, scoring in double figures 12 times – including some of the Tigers’ best individual performances of the season.

On Feb. 6, Blakeney had his best career game to date, dumping 31 points, while shooting 11-of-17 from the field against Mississippi State.

He topped that a couple weeks later, pouring in 9-of-13 from the field with 32 points against Florida.

In fact, Blakeney shot 50 percent or greater in four of LSU’s final seven games – a testament to how comfortable the young man had become by season’s-end.

With a full offseason to get bigger, faster and stronger, it’s not difficult to envision a world where Blakeney picks up right where he left off and moves into a starring role in the Tigers’ future basketball plans.

With Simmons and Quarterman gone, LSU will likely play a far different style next year – one that will probably lean heavily on Blakeney and his diverse offensive efforts.

I think he’s ready for the challenge.

I think he’s going to be a star.

It was a wise decision for the young man to return to school.

By this time next year, his star will be far brighter, and his draft position will be golden.

Blakeney’s patience is going to make him an awful lot of money.

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