Noah Blanton may be a quiet kid, but the 6’5” junior has been making some noise on the basketball court for the Breakers, who needed to beat Costa Mesa on Thursday, Feb. 7 at Dugger Gym to cap off an undefeated league season, the third in school history.
Most locals remember the exploits of Noah’s uncles Kurt (’85) and Dain (’90), who excelled in both basketball and volleyball at Laguna. Dain, a 2000 Olympic gold medalist in beach volleyball, was all Pacific Coast League in basketball in 1989 and ’90, and all-CIF in ’90. His father Everett (’84), who ran track, also played one season of hoops for Laguna.
Blanton has never felt pressured by his family heritage, but “it’s real good motivation when I’m in practice, and I see my uncle’s name up on the wall,” he said.
A gifted athlete, Noah had big-game potential as a sophomore, but he lacked the aggressiveness to really make an impact. “Sometimes potential can be a dirty word,” said Breaker’s Coach Bret Fleming, who thought Blanton “kind of played nice” last season.
Blanton agreed, saying, “I can’t be as nice when I’m playing. I’ve got to set that aside.”
This year Blanton has dispensed with the niceties, nearly doubling his scoring average and leading the team in rebounds and blocked shots. “That’s a huge turnaround from his freshman year,” said Fleming. “Now he’s very competitive. He likes to compete. He wants to compete.”
Blanton lost his nice guy image on the Main Beach courts last summer, where “he had to be tougher and more aggressive,” said his father. “He had to play against men.” But off the court, “I think he’s still pretty much the same.”
Blanton’s mother Mary, who teaches at El Morro Elementary, is happy to see that basketball has helped her son come out of his shell, but she knows that the game will never really change who he is deep down.
Noah’s love for basketball developed on the courts of Laguna’s Boys and Girls Club, but no one really taught him the finer points of the game until he joined the National Junior Basketball program in eighth grade. “When he got to high school, he had a lot of learning to do,” his father said. “Everyone was kind of technically ahead of him.”
Fleming began to mold the future Breaker at his summer basketball camp. Now, three years later, “our coach has really been pounding away at him to step it up,” said Blanton’s teammate Cole Kesler. “He’s starting to learn what it takes to score and be a good player at the varsity level. If we can keep his confidence up that he can make a move and score, I think we’re going to be doing pretty well.”
“He’s starting to get it,” Fleming agreed, but conceded, “some things he gets better than others.”
One thing Blanton needs to get is a better jump shot. Right now, teams guard him loosely when he goes outside, because he hasn’t shown he can be a consistent scoring threat from there. “If he added some kind of jump shot to his game, he’d be really, really tough to guard,” said Fleming.
Even without a consistent jumper, Blanton still does a lot of damage in the paint. Over the last nine games, he’s averaging 12.5 points, including a career high 20 against division one Corona to help Laguna earn a third place finish at the Estancia Coast Classic tournament last December. Two games later, he burned Estancia for 22 in the Breakers second Orange Coast league contest.
Each night out, Blanton gains confidence and gets a little better. “I feel more comfortable after every game,” he said. “I learn from all of them.”
He’s closer to becoming a complete player. “There’s still more under there that we haven’t seen yet,” his father predicted. “You get glimpses of it every now and then. When it’s realized all the way, it’s going to be something special.”