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January 30, 2014
Richmond High School

The clock has been counting down until Friday’s Richmond and Marion boys’ basketball game.  For the players, the time couldn’t have been slower.  This is the game the Red Devils had marked on their calendar since the season began.  The Red Devils knew if they took care of business early in its NCC schedule, they would have the opportunity to play the Giants for the lead in the conference title chase. Well the time is almost here and we will find out just how good the Devils really are.

I talked with several players this week and the general feeling is Richmond is as ready as they will ever be.  In fact, most of the players would have loved to have played this game on Monday.  Junior Guard Joel Okafor will be one of the several players who will get a chance to guard Marion's James Blackmon Jr.  Okafor is looking forward to Friday’s challenge.  “I feel great and the fact that it (the Tiernan Center) is going to be packed and the students are excited about the game”, said Okafor.  “I know we are going to do everything we can to come out with a win.  I have had an excited nervousness about the game since we beat Logansport”.   Okafor added, “All I can think about is how the game is going to go, trying to visualize it and stuff”.  I have watched film when Marion played Indianapolis Tech and that kind of gave me a nervous, anxious feeling but I am very excited to play”.

Okafor is just like every other player when it comes to their feelings…this is the kind of game they signed up for!  Senior Forward Abdul Shabazz knows what’s at stake in this game.  Shabazz says “this is pretty much for the NCC championship, although we have to take care of business down the road as well, but this is the big game right here”.

So how will the Red Devils slow James Blackmon Jr. down?  What is the strategy to make sure he doesn’t go wild and get 35 plus on Friday night?  Shabazz says, “the strategy is to make him uncomfortable, don’t let him get into his rhythm, how he wants to come into his shots and force him to take more bad shots than he usually does”.  That won’t be an easy task for the Richmond defense no matter how good the Red Devils have been this season.  Blackmon is averaging 35 points per game on 64% shooting…over 70% inside the three point line with a season high of 54 earlier this year and 42 last week against Anderson.

Richmond’s strategy will be to throw as many defenders at Blackmon as possible.  “We will be switching defenses a lot and trap sometimes and just keep him on his toes” said Shabazz.  Shabazz went on to say “We have watched a lot of film on him and I believe we want to make him more of a driver than an outside shooter. 

Senior Guard Mike Tillman knows if Richmond is to beat Marion, they will have to play excellent defense.  Tillman says, “We are going to try and deny him the basketball as much as we can.  We will try to wear him out and try to slow him down in the second half.  Tillman added, “We will attempt to wear him out on the defensive end and then go after him when we are on offense”.

Autonio Brown says this game isn’t only about Blackmon, it’s about Richmond as well.  “Honestly I think this game is about Richmond.  We are going to do our best to contain him but we need to concentrate on the whole team as a unit because they play well as a team.  We must make sure everyone else doesn’t get into a rhythm and basically take us out”.

The strategy and the film watching will basically cease tonight (Thursday).  The players went through their final preparations and now they must focus in school tomorrow (Friday) and at the same time think about the biggest game of the season and for some, the biggest “signature” game of their lives.   It may the longest 24 hours of their lives. 

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