February 7, 2010

by Lana Morelli

At 18 years old, 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds, Rodney Blake was a force to be reckoned with. Originally from Sharon Hill, Pa., and an alumnus of Monsignor Bonner High School, he looked ahead to entering college ranked among the top 30 basketball players in the area. His stellar stats and reputation had him ranked him as one of Philadelphia's top five by Street & Smith's and one of the top 50 in the country by The Sporting News. He had the potential and freedom to go to any college in the nation but he loved Philadelphia and wanted to stay close to home.

"I have a lot of respect for [former Temple coach] John Chaney but the real decision for me was between St. Joe's and Villanova," Blake said. He recalls going to Saint Joseph's campus as a child to play pick-up games. "I always loved St. Joe's...it was just comfortable for me," he said.

In addition to his comfort level, he wanted to contribute from the start. "At Saint Joseph's, I knew I'd be able to start as a freshman and in order to get better you have to play," he explained. Blake ultimately chose Saint Joseph's over Villanova and all Hawks will agree that he made the better choice.

When he put on the Hawk jersey he did not fail to impress and dominated almost every game he played. After four years his statistics were stellar. He was known for his soft touch in and around the basket while playing tenacious defense in the paint. With 419 blocks in his college career, including 121 blocks his sophomore year, and a school record 12 blocks in one game (1987 vs. Cleveland State), it's no wonder Blake earned his way into the SJU Athletics Hall of Fame. When he finished his career he led the nation in most shots blocked. That record has since been broken, however, but Blake still holds the Saint Joseph's records for career blocks.

Most players during their freshman year are acclimating themselves to the team and the conditions of playing basketball at the collegiate level, but not Blake. He had no problem adjusting to the rigorous schedule. During his first year at Saint Joseph's he broke the school's single-season blocked shot record with 95. He went on to be named to the Atlantic 10 Conference All-Rookie Team.

During his sophomore year he broke his own record and blocked 121 shots in a single season. That year he was picked to be a member of the East Team for the U.S. Sports Festival and played in Baton Rouge, La. Blake was named All-Atlantic 10 First Team and All-Big 5 that season.

During his college career he was lucky enough to represent the United States in two international competitions in both Europe and Asia. The summer before his sophomore year he was picked to play on the Pennsylvania-Delaware All Star Team in a tournament in Gmunden, Austria. He toured Austria for 12 days and his team took home a gold medal. The following summer, he was picked to be part of the U.S. Men's Select Team in the Jones Cup Basketball Tournament in Taipei, Taiwan. Again, he helped the U.S. bring home the gold medal.

In his junior season in 1987, Blake started receiving national recognition and earned NABC All-District First Team honors.

By the start of Blake's senior year he was a preseason nominee for the John Wooden Award, given to the national Player of the Year. In the fall of that season, basketball took him to Colorado, where he played in the 1987 Pan-American Games Basketball Trials. By the close of his college career he earned All-American recognition from various publications such as The Sporting News, Street & Smith's and Game Plan. Blake was also honored by both USBWA and NABC as First Team All-District selection.

During Blake's college career, college coaches across the country recognized his incredible talent. Rhode Island's head coach at the time, Tom Pender, calls Blake "the best post-up player and shot blocker [he's] ever seen." John Chaney said "Rodney Blake is going to make a great pro player." The coach's opinion that mattered most came from his Saint Joseph's coach, Jim Boyle. The late Boyle was progressive enough to see the legacy Blake would leave. "He will be remembered as an All-American in the truest sense of the term. The work ethic he possesses has allowed him to excel both on and off the court."

At the end of his senior year, Blake did not get drafted. "Senior year when I went down to [a pre-draft camp in] Orlando, I didn't realize how great an opportunity it was," Blake said. "I didn't understand that I had to `bring it' because so many NBA scouts were there to evaluate us."

While he was in Orlando he was advised to improve his shooting because his stock had gone down. The second game in Orlando he tried shooting more to pump up his game, but turned his ankle and couldn't play for the rest of his time there. "I wasn't able to really get to show my game," he added.

Blake did try out for the Chicago Bulls. "I didn't make it; I fell in the middle," Blake says. He went on try out for the Houston Rockets, and made it all the way to veteran's camp. There he trained with Jim Foster, the current Ohio State women's basketball coach and former Saint Joseph's women's coach. Blake calls Foster "an amazing coach who helped me get into the best shape of my life. He really put me through the ringer."

Foster previously worked out with Charles Barkley and Blake used to do some of the same drills, such as dunking the ball for one minute to increase jumping and muscle strength. "Foster helped me increase my jump shot from 15 feet and helped me work on my range," he said. Despite the intense training, the Rockets released Blake a week before the season started.

Blake went on to play for the West Virginia Gunners of the CBA for a short time before moving to Italy for three months as a practice player. He then moved to Cologne, Germany where he played for current Philadelphia 76ers assistant general manager Tony DiLeo, but when that team went bankrupt, he moved back to the United States. Soon after, he accepted a position playing for the CBA team in Wichita Falls, Texas. His team won the championship there before he moved on to play in the Cyprus Basketball Division. Blake remembers Cyprus as "a different atmosphere for basketball," and wasn't very happy. He quickly left for a team in Ghent, Belgium, and played there for two years.

"I kept turning down jobs to go overseas and play basketball in a hope that I would come back and get into the NBA," Blake said.

After his two years in Belgium, he played for the Chicago Rockers of the CBA. When that stint ended he took moved on to Finland and later played in Germany again, then Switzerland for three years, and finally Argentina. He didn't stay in Argentina for more than a few months, and when he returned to the Philadelphia area he decided he would stop traveling and retire from basketball in 2000.

Rodney Blake played professional basketball overseas from his graduation from Saint Joseph's in 1988 until December 2000. For 12 years he was lucky enough to play basketball, the game he loves, and travel the world. He married his wife Shelly in November, 1989 and together they have one daughter, Elizabeth. Blake is now teaching math in a special education setting at Mastery Charter School to children aged 13 to 18 years old.

Blake is still remembered as one of the NCAA's most prolific shot blockers. Saint Joseph's is proud to recognize Rodney Blake for his accolades during the time he so graciously wore the Hawks jersey.

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