It is a line of basketball demarcation. Score fewer than that, and a player might still be considered a valuable part of a team’s offense. Drop 30 on an opponent and there is no doubt.
Jordan Scott is sitting in the bleachers at the University of Idaho’s Cowan Spectrum after a recent practice. He looks back at his five-year career with the Vandals and forward to its rapidly approaching conclusion.
“Everybody has big dreams,” he said. “Playing in the NBA. Being a 30-point, 10-assist player. I had those big dreams.”
Around him, several teammates have staked out similar territory in the stands where they are staring into cameras and helpfully trying to provide insightful commentary on basketball matters. This assembly-line journalism is testimony to growing interest in a team with 20 wins that with two regular-season games remaining is still on track to accomplish its big goals of winning the Big Sky Conference Tournament and participating in March Madness.
Brayon (B.J.) Blake is among those players being interviewed. Like Scott, he is a senior, a starter at wing for the Vandals. As a junior college All-American at North Idaho College, he had designs on continuing his career at the UI as the Vandals’ nuclear option on offense. Also, like Scott, his willingness to accept a different role is a big part of the reason both of them are sitting in the stands answering questions about what it is like being part of this Idaho success story.
Coach Don Verlin calls Scott “a glue guy,” a consistent binding force, and “one of the critical pieces of this program for the past five years.” As a senior Scott plays nearly 30 minutes a game, pulling down an average of 5.1 rebounds, scoring 5.6 points and shouldering the responsibility to defend against some of Idaho’s opponent’s top scorers.
“He came here and did what he was coached to do,” Verlin said. “He got done what he wanted to do.”
Scott has already graduated and is working on a master’s degree in adult organizational leadership and learning.
Blake has risen to Verlin’s challenge to consistently deliver for the Vandals the performances he occasionally produced as a junior. Idaho’s leading rebounder, he raised his per-game average to 9.3 this year from 6.1 last season. His scoring is up to 16.2 points a game from 10 as a junior.
“After his first year, he really committed himself to being the best player he can possibly be,” Verlin said.
“The thing I’m happy with about B.J. is he bought into the Vandal way, sustaining energy and intensity.”
Scott and Blake agree the team’s success is more than an even trade for sacrificing individual glory as a scorer.
“My role is not what I thought it would be when I came here as a high school player,” Scott said. “I love my teammates. I love basketball. I’m in the right place at Idaho, so what do I need to do to be a part of this thing.”
“I expected to come here and put up 30 points,” Blake said. “It wasn’t my thing. I just want to win. Apparently, my thing is averaging a double-double every night.”
He’s sitting on nine rebounds for the season. A personal goal is to reach at least 10 by the end of the year.
Blake has had a rougher road through life than Scott. Pretty much on his own since he was 12 or 13, Blake said, it took him a while to figure out the academic side of the student-athlete equation. But he will graduate this spring.
“I’ll be the first in my family to do that,” he said.
His immediate goal is to play basketball professionally. After that, he hopes his degree will help lead him to a broadcasting career.
Scott has not decided if he wants to keep playing after this year. The child of a military family in Colorado, though, he was used to moving frequently and embraced discovering new places. In whatever he does, he is eager to continue that after college.
Their time at Idaho is winding down to a final few chances to reach the individual goals each envisioned when they came to Moscow. With a season high of 28 points against Portland State, Blake still has a reasonable chance to drop 30 on someone, and as opposing teams have made greater efforts to contain Idaho’s leading scorer, Victor Sanders, especially in the second half of the season, it has opened up scoring opportunities for Blake.
“My teammates have challenged me to get 30,” he said.
Scott, with a season high of 11 points against Sacramento State, is a much longer shot to accomplish it. This is not necessarily the end of the story, though. Pursuing whatever new adventure in whatever new place he finds himself in next year, Scott agrees new acquaintances may well ask about his time at Idaho.
“If they ask about the town, I’ll tell them how beautiful it is,” he said. “If they ask about the people, I’ll tell them about all the great relationships I made here.
“And if they ask about basketball, I’m going to tell them I scored 30 points a game.”
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