SHREVEPORT, La (KMSS/KTAL) – The LSU-Shreveport Pilots captured the 2020-21 Red River Athletic Conference regular-season title with a 78-67 victory over Texas A&M-Texarkana. Before the Pilots trip to the RRAC Tournament, Coach Blankenship sat down with John Sartori to discuss the Pilots season in the Sunday Night Sports Blitz Coach’s Corner. Read the full transcript of the interview below.
John Sartori: Now that the regular season has concluded. How do you feel like your program handled this COVID year?
Coach Blankenship: We feel like our guys did the absolute best that they could. We’ve talked about it, daily, that’s all we ask from you is to do your very best. Every time we had the opportunity to step foot in a gym, we just wanted to compete and be the best version of ourselves that we can be. I think at the end of the day, our success that we’ve had this season has shown that our guys took to that.
John Sartori: When do you think that this team started to come together and gel as one? Did they gel from the start? When did they start to hit their stride?
Coach Blankenship: I do think it happened early. Part of that is because of the returners that we had coming back off of last year’s team that won 29 games, finished number three in the country. We added some guys that had some previous relationships with each other when they have played together in junior college and a couple of guys have played together at Mcneese and so it all just kind of fit together really early on.
John Sartori: You guys and LSUA went back and forth this season. They were able to hand you guys your only loss this year. How did your team respond from that loss?
Coach Blankenship: Essentially, I think it was good for us. When you’re going undefeated and you’re going throughout a whole season, without a blemish on your record and the pressure just starts to build up and build up and we went down there with seven guys, we were missing two of our key contributors. Our guys gave it everything they had and we lost in the final seconds on a final shot to a top 20 program in a place where it’s hard to win at the end of the day I had a couple of guys text me and said ‘hey coach, this is gonna make us better in the long run.’ I think you saw it the next time we stepped on the floor, the stakes were high against Texarkana in the conference regular-season championship game, and our guys went out there and played like it was.
John Sartori: How proud are you of your team for the way they not just performed that night, but to be able to bounce back so quickly and capture a conference championship.
Coach Blankenship: We were coming off of a week layoff and only two practices going into that game, but our guys knew what was on the line. It’s just all about them, I’m so happy for them, seeing the guys celebrate that had never won a championship before, and some guys that hadn’t done it since high school. That’s what it’s about. It’s about the smiles on the faces and watching them cut down nets and enjoy being part of the championship team.
John Sartori: These new guys who have come in who, haven’t played in that kind of atmosphere, in that kind of game since their high school days. What have the guys who have been a part of the program done to help them buy into what you guys have built at LSUS, to prepare them for big games like the one that you guys had in Texarkana?
Coach Blankenship: I think it starts in the recruiting process. We tell these guys what they’re coming into, we try to sell the tradition and the history of the program and when they step foot in our gym for the first time they see all the banners and the other night and the championship game, you know, we had four returners on the floor down the stretch in the last five minutes, and our guys on the bench when I tried to make a sub for defensive purposes they said ‘hey you know to let those guys finish it out, they’re the ones that got us in this position, and, and we want to cheer them to the finish line.’ That was awesome to see that that’s just kind of the team that we’ve got, and those guys went out there and got it done and I couldn’t be happier for them.
John Sartori: How do you build a program like that? How do you have guys that buy-in like that and have such love for one another?
Coach Blankenship: It just starts with building relationships with the players individually, and then getting them to build relationships with each other. We talked about it, basketball is a team sport, you can only play five at a time. I can’t play all nine of you. At the end of the day we’ve got to be for each other, but they’re gonna remember that time they climbed that ladder and cut down that net, and that’s what it’s all about. Again, just a great group of guys and if we can stick together through this final stretch run and tournament play, hopefully, we’ll get the opportunity to celebrate a few more wins here down the stretch.