Craig Blackmon is a 27 year old 193cm guard from Houston, Texas that is playing this season for Forex Time Apollon Limassol (Cyprus-Division A) He started his basketball career in 2006 for Howard Payne (NCAA) where he played until 2008. He then played at Texas-Tyler (NCAA3). Before coming to Europe last year, he got experience playing with the Texas Legends (D-League) training camp; Rio Grande Valley Vipers (D-League). In 2011, he was drafted by the drafted by Houston Express (UBA,2rd(19). In 2011-2012, he played for the Houston Express (UBA) playing 10 games: 15.7ppg, 4.0rpg, 3.0apg, 1.3spg, FGP: 43.5%, 3PT: 42.4%, FT: 60.0%. In 2012-2013 he played for he played for the KB Drita Gjilan (Kosovo-SuperLeague) averaging 20.6ppg, 4.3rpg, 3.6apg, 2.5 spg, FGP: 58%, 3PFG: 43%, FT: 83%. Last season he played for Barmer TV (Germany-Regionalliga) playing 24 games: 19.0ppg, 7.1rpg, 2.2apg, 2.2spg, FGP: 41.8%, 3PT: 32.6%, FT: 71.9%. He spoke to German Hoops about basketball when he played in Germany last season.
Craig thanks for talking to German Hoops. You are playing for Barmer TV (Germany-Regionalliga) this season in Germany and living in Wuppertal. Has it been a big culture shock coming from Houston, Texas or are you one of those people that has little problem getting adjusted to new surroundings?
Hey thanks for having me, umm yeah it is a totally different vibe coming from Houston but I love the small town feel as well and I’m an explorer so it was no trouble getting settled here.
It has been a tough season for Barmer as the club sits in last place of the German Regionaliga division. When you came to the team did you ever think that the season would go as it has?
I knew it would be a challenge but I never would think we would give up, and I still don’t. I am always looking to prove people wrong and many doubted us so Its tough in that aspect but to answer your question, No.
What have been the biggest problems with the team not being able to win more games this season?
Many teams here have 2-3 pro players and a few experienced players which played in higher leagues, our club just had myself, and now with the recent acquisition of Patrick Nyeko we have 2, so that plays a major factor in tough games.
You are the only international player on the team. Is there just too much pressure on you to have to get the win for the team or is the talent level around you just not as strong as would be beneficial for getting more wins?
I love the pressure, it makes me perform and give everything I have. The guys around me are all great guys and we get along very well, which you would think is hard due to the situation of being in last place but we always keep a fight with us. Talent wise they may not be as strong as most teams but they give everything they have and I love them for that.
After playing in the States since childhood, you played in Kosovo last season and now in Germany. Was it a big adjustment having to play for non American coaches? How has it been getting guidance from Abdelhadi Saou?
I am a big student of the game, I evaluate myself in every aspect, and the great thing about Eli (Coach Saou) he is the same. We always pick each other brain about basketball, from things I can do to help the team and things to improve my game in general. We spend a lot of time in the gym getting shots up, working on footwork, and making sure we stay on the same page. This season is the hardest on him, but he keeps a positive atmosphere in practice and reminds me to always remain professional despite the situation.
I have to ask you about coming to Germany. Last season you played for KB Drita Gjilan (Kosovo-SuperLeague) averaging 20.6ppg, 4.3rpg, 3.6apg, 2.5 spg, FGP: 58%, 3PFG: 43%, FT: 83%. It is hard to believe that after a strong season like that you would land in the German Regionaliga. Did you not have better offers?
You have no idea how many times I have been asked that question lol, I did have some other offers in other countries but the reason I took this one is simple, stability and growth. I will tell you my secret, in my career I would like only one thing, thats to find a club grow with and win a championship and I feel Germany is the place to do it, the economy is strong the culture is great and not to mention the food is pretty tasty! So I took the offer to get my foot in Germany and introduce myself.
Do you see yourself as a type of role model for young German players on your team? What has been your nicest memory on the court with a German teammate where you could really see that he appreciated your help?
Definitely, I think leadership is my strongest quality and the guys seem to respect that, it just comes natural to me. The one moment that stands out for me is before a game Sascha Bornschien, the captain of our team came and told me “We are led by you, you must lead us well” That meant so much to me! I also coach our U18 team and those guys really give there all for me, I’m hard some days which they hate lol but they are a great group and will be amazing players
You have a lot of time between games and practice. I know you are busy working on your game. How does a private individual training day look like for Craig Blackmon?
Yeah I call it “Lab Time”. When I step in I usually find a good playlist to put on in the gym something up beat. Get a good sweat going with ball handling for 15- 20 min then some off the dribble shots from spots I get in the game and lastly spot shooting for 200 makes then I’m out till practice. I usually go hour and half maybe 2.
I notice that you have very high rebound totals for a point guard. Has rebounding always been easy for you?
Yeah, I am a bigger guard and I have really long arms so rebounding has been my thing, my high school coach Larry Brown use to challenge me so I would always have to step up when needed.
What is a hidden strength in your game that doesn´t get noticed right away on the court?
I think its my defense, this year not as much as I’m in the top 5 in the league in steals but I would say defense is always over looked when you are a scorer.
Let us go back a bit to when you were growing up in Houston. Who were your NBA idols as a kid?
Wow being from Houston, Hakeem was the man when I was younger and didn’t know much about the game I just knew the Dream Shake! Then as I got older and started playing Kobe Bryant became the guy I wanted to be! From coming out with the glasses on to make his decision to go pro he was my guy. So if I could do a Mt. Rushmore it would be, Hakeem, Kobe, MJ, Bill Russell…can’t beat 11 rings!
When did you know that you wanted to become a professional basketball player? What drove you most to follow this dream?
The most driving force to become a professional was my mother. She sacrificed so much for me and my sister. She would come to all my games in HS and make as many as she could in college. I loved the game of basketball and figured this is my way to make her proud.
You started your NCAA career at Howard Payne where you played two seasons. You then transferred to Texas-Tyler (NCAA3). What were the main reasons for going back two steps to the NCAA3?
I was very confused at that time in my life, I didn’t have much guidance and I wasn’t focused on what I wanted to do with it all. College really was the time I had to transition from a boy to a man.
In 2010, you signed to play at the University of Houston but NCAA 5-year eligibility clock ended. How bitter was that for you? How would you summarize your time in the college ranks? What did you learn from this experience?
That was a tough blow at the moment, I was a bit depressed because me and my roommate had prepared so much for it but to be turned down at the last moment was tough. I became friends with many guys that was playing and they helped me through it, Maurice McNeil, Adam Brown and Aubrey Coleman much thanks to them.
Do you still get annoyed with yourself, that you didn´t get better grades in high school, which might have made your basketball journey easier now?
All the time!! I go back to my high school and talk to many of the kids so they won’t follow the same mistakes I did. It bothers me till this day
In 2010, you had work outs with the Atlanta Hawks and individual training sessions with 1977 NBA champion with the Washington Bullets Greg Ballard. Did he give you some extra pointers on how to rebound?
Yeah! He is actually my cousin, we would speak often when I was coming overseas and he was working for the Hawks. He would give his insight on my game, its great to have him as a resource. Haven’t spoken in a while but I’ll be sure to contact him when I get back to the states
In 2011, you spent some time with teams Texas Legends (D-League) training camp; Rio Grande Valley Vipers (D-League), only pre-season. You never played in the D-league. Would the D-league still be an option for you now?
Yeah I enjoyed working with those D-League teams, I wished more would have come out of it. I still do some drills we did and playing with those players made me a better player. So the D-League could be an option, in the right situation.
With the Rio Grande Vipers, you spent time with head coach Paul Finch/Nick Nurse. What important things did they give you which has helped you with your professional career now?
After I had an on court session with at the time assistant coach Jai Steadman, I went in Nick Nurse office and he had my resume in hand. He told me, you are a good shooter and possess a lot of things we could use but the biggest thing that kills you is your resume. He said u have a lot of short and unfinished seasons. That has stuck with me, from then on, no matter where I played all I cared about was longevity.
You also had experience in the minor leagues of the UBA and the Houston Express. How valuable was this time being able to play at home?
Great, I enjoyed the UBA its a nice up and coming minor league to allow players to stay in shape and play against some competition, not like a local YMCA league.
Explain how you got to Kosovo. I think if you had been off that day at the restaurant, you may never have come to Europe and living your basketball dream now?
Wow, its a long story but I can give you the short version lol. GOD!! It was in his plans, I was working at a steakhouse in Houston to save money for a camp in Europe, a guest came in and offered to pay my flight! Next thing you know I’m at the Europe Basketball Academy in Serbia ran by Srdjan Premovic, in a 1 months professional-program. Learned the European game there continue to network although Europe with many clubs and coaches and grow my talent. Training with many clubs, from BKK Radnicki to KK Vrsac in Serbian 1 league Also Ilysiakos and Nea Kiffisa in Greek A1, then got a call from KB Drita Gjilan and made my debut!
There are few players that have given up as much sacrifice to the game he loves as you? You have spent your last dollar to attend a work out? If you had to describe your love for the a game how would you do it?
Thats what you do when you truly believe in yourself and have faith. God had a plan for me, it took nights of sleeping on a friends floor in Belgrade, missing thanksgiving dinners and eating a cold turkey sandwich by myself in Athens, working out on and outside court in Novi Sad because the gyms were closed or even eating the same food everyday just because thats all that was available It takes so much but I wouldn’t say it was hard because I LOVE TO PLAY BASKETBALL!! Its not hard when I step on the court rather I’m in pain or not. My love for this game is to my soul!
I was very happy to hear some praise from your part about my work for German basketball. Your words felt so genuine. How important is good character and good basketball in your life?
I read all your interviews, watch your videos and see the work you put in for german basketball and you are truly what it needs! Good character and good basketball go hand-in-hand you can’t have one without the other to me. Because after I hang up my shoes I will always be rememberd for the type of person I was and that will matter the most to me. I’m a person first and a player second.
Last season you were the MVP of the Kosovo allstar game. What memories do you have of this and was that you biggest basketball achievement in your career?
That was a great achievement and big monument in my life, so many great players foreign and domestic so it meant a lot to be on the court and competing and having fun with the fans. We didn’t get the win but I enjoyed the game.
How great was it having a teammate like Brandon Shingles in Kosovo. You have two inches on him. Who won a one on one in practice?
Lol!! Brandon Shingles is like a brother to me, we met each other a few years back in Serbia and we have been close ever since. We are both southern guys so we got a fight in us, those one on one battles are legendary, I’d say the series is tied about 20-20! I would love to be on a team with him again soon! He is a fierce competitor a very smart player and great guy on and off the floor.
You have stated that your ultimate goal is to become the greatest player to ever play. Where do you get this knack of arrogance and self confidence?
The work I put in. I don’t work hard as a number 2 guy or a subpar player, I take my self to the limits so I can be number 1. If you aren’t striving to be the best then what are you truly working towards?
Who is the best player that you ever played against that is in the NBA now?
Well being from Houston a lot of guys in the NBA work out there in the offseason and we all usually end up in the same gyms, so the best I would say is Gerald Green or James Harden
What tips do you have for young American players that don´t have the best advantages of becoming a professional player, but have that desire and heart to always chase that dream?
Don’t give up and be willing to go through whatever to make it even a possibility! It will be Hard but the satisfaction of achieving a goal is worth it!
Where do you see yourself in five years?
On a Euroleague team fighting for a championship, or a BBL team with the same goals and aspiration. Married with my wife and kids living a great life abroad! Thats the plan and goals I have set for myself. Unless I get a call from an NBA team lol.
What was the last DVD movie that you saw?
Best Man Holiday.
Thanks Craig for the chat.