- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 21, 2002

Steve Blake laughs at the comparison to Woody Harrelson in the basketball movie "White Men Can't Jump." Blake doesn't look like a basketball player with his modest height and slender build, but he sees one similarity between himself and the star of one of his favorite movies.
"I can relate to him a little bit because I really can't jump that high," Blake said. "But I can dunk."
Regardless, Blake would rather toss a soft alley-oop to Chris Wilcox or a crisp pass to Juan Dixon coming off a screen for a smooth jumper. He is second in the nation in assists this season, and he has done it in rather anonymous fashion. The selfless point guard gets overshadowed by Maryland's higher-profile stars like All-America Dixon, standout center Lonny Baxter and rising star Wilcox, who grab the headlines as well as most of the points for the Terrapins.
It's not only on the national stage that the leading assist man in Maryland history gets overlooked. Blake even has trouble getting recognition when he's trying to play in a neighborhood game near his suburban Miami home. The 6-foot-3, 160-pound playmaker is anonymous at home despite his critical role as playmaker for one of the nation's best teams.
"I get that all the time," said Blake, a junior who has started every game but one since arriving in College Park. "People don't think I'm as quick as I am. They don't know I can shoot. They don't expect me to be able to do the things I do. I get that a lot when I go out to pickup games. It happened so many times, especially back home. I might be the only white guy in the gym, and they don't know who I am. I might surprise them that way."
Blake doesn't draw attention with flashy moves, fist pumping or by taking wild shots. He shows little emotion on the court and, literally, prefers passing success to others. Blake averages 8.2 assists and has an uncanny flair for scoring at crucial moments.
"On any outstanding team, a team that is going to make a run for the national championship, you need a point guard that is tough," Duke coach Mike Kryzewski said, "Steve Blake is tough. … He makes huge shots and huge decisions. He's a great passer. He makes that team play as one on the court. He is one of the best guards in the country."
Last season Blake became the first Maryland player to lead the ACC in assists since John Lucas in 1974. He also led the league this season.
Now the Terps (28-4) are the top seed in the NCAA East Region, and play fourth-seeded Kentucky tomorrow night in the round of 16 in Syracuse, N.Y.
"Steve Blake makes that engine go," said North Carolina coach Matt Doherty, who was surprised to see Blake named only third-team All-ACC. "He is so unselfish. He is such a great passer, has great, great vision. He's a tough kid. He deserves a lot more respect."
Blake has a knack for making the right reads, either pushing the fast break or slowing down to run the halfcourt offense. From there, he can feed the post or toss a skip pass for an open jump shot. Baxter calls Blake "the floor general who doesn't care if he doesn't score."
Blake's play stems from a pass-first mentality seldom seen among today's point guards who see themselves as both playmakers and shooters.
"I adapt to what I need to do," said Blake, who scores most of his points on 3-pointers and layups. "I can score when I need to. In my first couple years of high school, I averaged 15 points. I averaged 25 points in a summer league. But my role is to run the offense. It doesn't hurt that you have guys like Juan, Byron [Mouton], Lonny and Chris finishing for you. You can't get much better."
Blake has 261 assists this season, 48 more than shots attempted.
"He's a perfect point guard, especially with a team like that," Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. "He can orchestrate getting Juan Dixon shots, getting Mouton opportunities, getting Baxter and Wilcox touches down low."
Although Blake may not take many shots, he nonetheless has a flair for backbreakers. His only points a trey in Sunday's second-round NCAA tournament rout of Wisconsin came during Maryland's pullaway in the first half as part of a10-0 run. In the ACC tournament, it was also Blake who hit the momentum-changing 3-pointer against Florida State that set off a 21-0 run after the Seminoles had cut the margin to one in the second half.
Perhaps Blake's most impressive game this season was against top-ranked Duke last month. Blake won the matchup with national player of the year Jason Williams, and was largely responsible for holding Williams to six of 22 shooting. Blake had 13 assists, and provided the game's pivotal play.
Just before halftime, Williams took a look back at Coach K while holding for a last shot. Blake pounced and, with Williams' head turned, stole the ball and converted a breakaway layup to give the Terps momentum and a nine-point lead heading into intermission.
"Blake had some games where he hasn't scored much or hardly at all," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who feels Blake plays better in big games. "His value to the team is in terms of what we want running our fast break, getting us into the offense, playing good defense on the other team's point guard and the ability to shoot the ball when he is open. All those things he does for us"
Blake also has the ability to take over a game with his scoring if he chooses. He almost single-handedly willed the Terps to an ACC tournament victory over N.C. State while most of his teammates were in a funk. The playmaker scored a career-high 21 points on seven of nine shooting to go along with 11 assists, five rebounds and six steals in the 86-82 loss.
"I think when it gets down to the wire other teams are looking for Juan and Lonny to make the big basket," said Blake, a 36 percent 3-point shooter. "The attention is taken away from me. That opens up a lot of opportunities. So I just take them. I'd rather lose the game myself than have someone else lose it for us. I have confidence in my teammates too; it's just that I'm not afraid to take a shot at the end or handle the ball."


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide