By Warren Shaw
(For a complete breakdown of Jaron Blossomgame, click here.)
The NBA draft process is a relentless grind for players trying to take the leap to the association. It’s repetitive, filled with exhaustive travel and the constant pressure that comes with any evaluation.
The phrase “experience is the best teacher,” applies in the case of Clemon’s Jaron Blossomgame when it comes to the draft process.
This is the second time he’s matriculated through this. He almost entered the draft last season but withdrew his name to better himself on and off the court. Over the last year, Blossomgame has graduated with a Sociology degree, raised his statistical averages and done amazing work off the floor helping others. Now projected as a second-round pick in most mock drafts (more on that later), it’s apparent that he’s educated, well-grounded and ready to contribute at the next level.
Blossomgame took the time to speak with us between workouts to provide his prospective about his journey to land a job in the NBA.
Warren Shaw: You are from Georgia. What’s the basketball scene like out there?
Jaron Blossomgame: I think it’s really good. Basketball is big deal in Georgia. A lot of big time hoopers come out of there. I love out there on that side…East Coast.
WS: Were you a Hawks fan growing up?
JB: I actually grew up as a Lakers fan. I’m probably one of the biggest Lakers fan ever.
WS: How did that work out being on the East Coast with a city that had a team?
JB: It worked pretty well. My brother—he’s a lot older than me and bigger than me—we used to play out in the front yard. He’d be Shaq and I’d be Kobe and ever since then it kind of stuck with us.
WS: Outside of hoops, what other things were you interested in when you were younger? Do you still do any of those things?
JB: I like a lot of things about the outdoors; camping, doing things on the lake, jet skiing, fishing, wakeboarding and things like that. Also, I really like just sightseeing. I’ve been out in Vegas for two months and I’ve been to the Hoover Dam three times and I went to Red Rock Canyon. Just being outdoors, I’m really interested in things like that.
WS: Who is your favorite player?
JB: Big time Kobe fan. Thought I was going to meet him at the Nike Skills Academy, but he came the year before and this year LeBron James came instead.
WS: Do you pay attention to the draft boards and projections?
JB: Not really because that stuff doesn’t really matter. Those things are just done by people who have no idea of what’s going on. A lot of people pay attention to it and although I’ve seen it, I don’t look too much into it. You know how the draft is—guys can go higher or go guys can go lower—anything can happen on draft night. So those little mock drafts don’t have as much of an impact as people think they should right now.
WS: You almost came out last year. Why the change of heart and how are you better for making the decision a season ago?
JB: The draft process last year was very exciting for me. Something new and something I looked forward to for a very long time. To be able to go to the combine and work out for about a dozen teams was definitely eye-opening for me.
It’s interesting because I did enter the process last year with the intent to leave school and I took the process very seriously. I had a good showing at the combine with strong workouts, but that May 25 deadline approached and I had a change of heart. I wanted to take the feedback I got from the teams at the combine and apply that to my game and get better at certain things to be an overall better player.
I felt like going back to school would give me the best chance to do so and I wanted to graduate. I was only about two classes away from graduation (last year), so going back gave me the opportunity to graduate as well as work on things on and off the court to prepare for this jump I’m taking right now towards the NBA.
WS: The draft process can be a grind. Is there anything you don’t particularly enjoy about it?
JB: For me, it’s been the travel. I mean, I left Vegas a few days ago and I’m on the road until June 20. That’s about 17-18 days on the road. I left San Antonio yesterday, I came to New York today, Brooklyn tomorrow and I’m off to Orlando after that. Being able to take care of my body and staying hydrated has been the most difficult part of the process this year. Last year was different. Being an underclassmen and not having an agent going through the process made things tough. Just trying to stay on top of things with the scheduling stuff. My assistant coach at Clemson and I were scheduling the workouts and getting things set.
WS: Are there any unique drills or workouts you have encountered as teams try to evaluate your skills?
JB: A lot of the workouts are repetitive as far as one-on-one, two-on-two or three-on-three stuff. You play in every workout pretty much, but some teams like to do things differently. Some teams like to teach more strategy and some teams like to let you play free. San Antonio was a team that had a lot of structure in their workout. Houston had a lot of structure in their workout also. It just varies on the team and what their culture and coaching style is.
WS: What advice have you received about the difference between the collegiate game and the NBA?
JB: The speed and physicality of the game is so different. The speed at which you cut and get your shot off at the college level is completely different at the NBA level to be effective. Guys are bigger, stronger, faster at the next level, so improving your speed in every aspect of your game is probably the biggest thing rookies must learn in the transition. That’s the feedback I’ve gotten when asking questions after my interviews at the combine both years.
WS: You mention that you took some feedback from the teams to work on aspects of your game. What are those things that you are most focused on improving?
JB: Yeah, I’m going to continue to work on those things the rest of my career. My ball-handling is one thing and becoming a consistent shooter. One thing I wanted to show by coming back to school was being able to guard multiple positions at a high level. At Clemson, they played me at the four spot and because of that we were able to switch one through four ball screens on defense. I was able to guard college players one through four and even some fives at times. So being able to show my versatility on the defensive end was important.
On offense with me at the four, it put some dudes in a difficult spot. You put a bigger dude on me and I was able drive by them on the perimeter. Or, if you put a smaller guy on me, I could to take them to the post. My versatility was something I really wanted to showcase this year and I think I did a good job.
WS: Is your defensive versatility the part of your game that you think will translate right away at the NBA level?
JB: Yeah, for sure. That’s what I tell teams all the time. With my frame and size at 6’7”, 220 pounds and being a great athlete, I’m able to make an impact in the NBA immediately on the defensive side of the ball.
Early on in my career, as it goes, I will be able to improve on different aspects of my game; shooting, dribbling, whatever. I will be able to add something to my game each year. But my niche in the NBA will be as a defender and that’s really my thing. I tell a lot of teams that I can do what Andre Iguodala does right now for the Warriors for a team next year. He defends at a high level, he takes and makes open threes, he gets to the free-throw line and he scores in transition. He does those things really well within his role right now and that’s something that I can easily do that will translate to the NBA.
WS: So you are openly saying that you aren’t interested in trying to be a star right away, so to speak? You are happy being a role player to help a team win immediately?
JB: For sure. Every team in the NBA—they have their guy already. They just need certain guys to come in and help compliment those other guys and that can be me. I can come into the NBA right now and be a superstar in my role. I can come in for five minutes or 10 minutes—anything—and just be a superstar in my role and continue to build on my game as the years go by.
WS: One thing that seems to come up when people talk about you is your positivity and work ethic. How did those two things become such important aspects of your life?
JB: That would be because of my AAU coach, William Steele. I met him my sophomore year of high school. I was a very raw kid as far as basketball skills but I was a super athlete. He saw something special in me and really took hold of me in improving my game. He took me under his wing and made me believe that I could be the best as long as I worked hard.
We spent countless hours in the gym as he was trying to prepare me for the college level. Without him, I wouldn’t be here today. Something not many people know is I had a compound fracture in my tibia my senior year in high school and it took me about a year to get back from that. It was hard for me both mentally and physically, but with hard work, dedication and perseverance anything is possible. I’ve had some low points in my career basketball-wise but my faith in God, keeping my circle tight and believing in myself helped me push through.
WS: You were very active at Clemson in social responsibility activities in things like ClemsonLIFE. What is your take about athletes being involved in the community?
JB: I think it’s very important. At a place like Clemson—and all these other universities—as an athlete you have a target on your back. People are always watching you. If you mess up, people are going to see it, but if you do the right thing people are also going to see that.
Doing the right thing and making a positive impact on someone else’s life is very important. Three minutes of your day talking to a kid could make a huge impact or difference in their life and you might not even know it. You might change their outlook on things. I’m just always trying to stay positive and connecting with different people. I’m always shaking people’s hands and just trying to do the right thing in the community so people will see that. Hopefully my fellow athletes will reciprocate that with other people. I’ve just learned to be that way over the years to take the time to do the small things in life that truly matter.
WS: If you could play anybody one-on-one in the league who would it be?
JB: Honestly, it would be LeBron James. I know that might be a very common answer but I would just want to see how I matchup with him and just learn from him.
WS: You’ve got some hops and if all goes well you could be a dunk contest participant or something like that. Do you have any goals for this upcoming season, I mean, I know getting drafted is the priority but have you thought about what you could accomplish in your rookie year?
JB: I haven’t thought much about that to be honest. After I get there, I just want to be able to help contribute to a team winning, no matter how many minutes I get. Or even if it’s as a practice guy, I want to contribute some kind of way as a rookie. If throughout my career the opportunity presents itself to participate in something like that, then yes that is something I’d like to do.