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Blake grad polishes up nicely for Spartans
Jeremy Black has become a go-to guy at UT.
By DAVID NORRIE
Published November 15, 2006
TAMPA - Over the years, University of Tampa men's basketball coach Richard Schmidt has uncovered recruits throughout the country who may have had Division I size or talent, but slipped through the cracks.
Often those players simply desired more playing time than what they were getting, or just never achieved what they or previous coaches envisioned.
Whatever the reason, if Schmidt thought they could help the Spartans and they met UT's academic prerequisites, he took them. Though he has developed somewhat of a knack in finding those unpolished gems, he occasionally comes across a bona fide jewel.
And of a handful of those, he says 6-foot-8 junior forward Jeremy Black may be the most impressive.
"Jeremy is the most improved player over the first two years that I've ever coached," Schmidt said.
If the improvement continues, Tampa should have a formidable duo in the post. Black, who averaged nearly a double double last season (9.0 ppg, 8.2 rpg) teams with 6-8 first-team all-Sunshine State Conference selection Chris Evans to form one of the biggest front lines in the league.
The team's top returning scorer, Evans averaged 13.8 points last season, and led the SSC with 12 double doubles. Black had six while starting all 28 games.
Rawness, however, preceded refinement. Upon arriving at UT from virtual next-door neighbor Blake High, Black "had everything to work on," Schmidt said.
Black won't argue. Though he led Hillsborough County in rebounding (15.4 per game) and averaged 14.4 points his senior year at Blake, his game was mostly undeveloped.
He didn't have an abundance of talent; he was simply one of the biggest kids on the court. But the one crucial element Black never lacked was effort.
Effort is what Schmidt saw. Effort is what Black turned to when his test scores forced him to sit out his first semester of eligibility. And the example his effort set is what led Schmidt to do something he rarely ever does - make a junior team captain.
"He has a huge motor and wins every sprint in practice," said Schmidt, who embarks on his 24th season at UT with tonight's 2006-07 opener at Palm Beach Atlantic.
"He has a tremendous attitude toward trying to make himself better and he never complains. You could ask him to stay after practice and help clean the gym and he wouldn't question it. There aren't many players like that."
Black, who turned 21 on Monday, is the proverbial late bloomer. The youngest of seven kids and product of a rocky childhood, he initially struggled with grades at Blake. When he became eligible, he played very little at first, and said he was told to just "rebound, rebound, rebound" when he got in the game.
He said when he picked his grades up, his basketball skills began to improve with them. He ultimately earned a Turnaround Achievement Award from the Hillsborough County School District.
These days, he's still overcoming difficult situations. His stepmother, Tawanda Black, who was paralyzed with a rare illness, recently passed away. He remembers spending time between being at her bedside and practice.
"Just life experiences," he said. "That's what taught me to be who I am."
This winter, he could be a force if Schmidt can find a suitable replacement for 2006 SSC Player of the Year Mark Borders in the backcourt.
Sophomore John Ball and senior Matt Pezzullo, who combined for 26 assists in limited action last season, will split time for now.
Junior college transfer Jeffrey Moore also is expected to compete for backcourt minutes when he returns from a knee injury some time around Christmas.
Schmidt also signed two Division I transfers - T.J. Lundy, a 6-6 forward from St. Francis University; and Jeff James, a 6-7 forward from Butler. Junior swingman Chris King (4.3 ppg) returns and is expected to be a scoring threat at either guard or forward.