The SWAC has some great basketball. The problem is they are under covered across college athletics. That included Gary Blackston, one of the league’s biggest stars from this past season.
Within the College Basketball landscape many would consider three tiers of conferences. The power conferences like the Big Ten, mid-major conferences like the West Coast and the Mountain West, and the low majors. Those conferences like the SWAC and the MEAC are usually conferences who do not turn much if any profit. Due to the lack of funds many of these schools must play a ton of road games and those road games are usually against high major schools who are going to pay the university money to play them. That money is utilized by the university to keep their sports programs operating.
Low Major schools, while usually overmatched in most of their non-conference games have many talented teams and many talented players play in that conference. One of the extremely talented teams comes from the small town of Prairie View, Texas. That school is the Prairie View A&M Panthers out of the SWAC. The Panthers experienced the best season in their schools’ history and claimed their spot in March Madness by winning the SWAC conference tournament. The Panthers leading scorer and team leader senior Gary Blackston Jr. was a huge reason why.
The Panther star had a tremendous college career and experienced a great deal of success at a school that has not experienced much success in their history. I had the honor of interviewing Blackston Jr. The senior guard was very honest and candid about his experiences in college, why he chose to play in the SWAC and his experience in the NCAA tournament.
As a player with the skill set that Blackston possesses it was interesting that he chose to attend Prairie View A&M. The guard could have played at most schools in the country. Blackston was recruited by schools from the Summit League, Southland, Big Sky and the MEAC, out of Angelina Junior College in Texas. He wanted to attend a school that he felt he could win the conference both years. He accomplished that goal this year when the Panthers won both the regular season SWAC title and the conference championship earning a bid to the NCAA tournament. His junior season the Panthers finished in second place behind Grambling.
As was previously mentioned, Blackston and his Panther teammates led the school to their best season in the school’s history. They accomplished the most conference wins and most total wins. That is something that can never be taken from any of them, and no matter where their basketball careers go the accomplishments this season at PVAMU can never be taken from them. Blackston regarding this season and the experience “The experience was like none other, I am still reaping the benefits of being a champion and having the greatest season in school history.” The school has not forgotten and the players are revered for doing something no one else was ever able to accomplish at the school.
Prairie View A&M is a school that needs to play all the high major “buy” games. The school needs the money to keep their athletic departments alive and that money helps pay for travel and other expenses during the season. Blackston, as mentioned was a player who could have played anywhere, but chose a low mid major. Often the best competition will bring out the best in the best players. Did those games motivate the senior guard more than any other game he played in college? The Panther guard said “no game motived me more than others, I will admit the big stage brings out a different beast in me but I treat every game like it’s my last. I want to win and dominate.” If you have ever watched him play it is evident the senior guard takes that mantra to heart.
The NCAA tournament first four games were some college basketball fans first exposure to Prairie View basketball and for many it was their first exposure to the SWAC. The conference champion Panthers along with the conference runner-up Texas Southern Tigers proved to be formidable opponents for almost everyone they played. Those teams did beat some higher major schools before dominating the conference.
Since the SWAC almost always gets placed in the first four NCAA tournament games in Dayton. The NCAA tournament is one of the best events in sports and everyone enjoys their time in the tournament, including those who go to the first four. Even though the Panthers lost the game, Blackston had a great experience. “I couldn’t believe all of the hospitality, plus my family flew in for the game vs Fairleigh Dickinson, I really enjoyed myself.” While the goal is to win an National Championship the experience for every player is second to none and one most will never forget.
Now that his college career is over, and Blackston experienced the success that he did, was his college experience different from others because of the gross underexposure the low majors receive. The low majors are very rarely on TV, especially the major networks, and there is very rarely any coverage in media publications. The Panther star said “He did regret that part of it, because I knew I could play in any conference and have a major impact. If I would have had the coverage the world would have been able to see what I could do. I have laced them up with some of the best players in the country like Ja Morant.” Many people who do not get to see Blackston play on a regular basis would never know that he bases his game off of the LA Clippers guard Lou Williams.
Blackston does plan to play professionally somewhere. That may be overseas or in the NBA if given the opportunity. The guard let me know that he hopes like all players to play in the NBA but he is going to keep his options open. The G-League seems like a very real possibility for the former SWAC player. Ultimately, wherever his career takes him, the guard will be successful. His game translates to every level very well and he has a great work ethic. Good Luck Gary, in your future endeavors.