Although Pitt entered the party relatively late in the recruitment of 6-foot-2 Blair Academy (N.J.) Class of 2021 guard prospect Jaylen Blakes, the Panthers made their pursuit of him public Monday night when they extended an offer.
Checking out his film, it is clear that Blakes is a tough player. The way he rumbles through the lane and acrobatically finishes at the rim is something all coaches want in a guard, whether the player can shoot or not. A combination of both? Rare. But that is exactly what Blakes is, according to his high school coach of four years, Joe Mantegna.
“He is an elite shooter, he is an elite free-throw shooter, he is a multi-positional defender, he is a winner, and he is an unbelievable character kid,” he said.
When asked for one word that best describes Blakes as a player, Mantegna responded without hesitation: “warrior.”
Blakes is one of, if not the most coveted guards still available in the 2021 class. While his skill set includes many strengths that are enticing to coaches, his best strength, Mantegna says, does not even involve the ball.
“Jaylen is one of the best competitors that I have ever been around,” Blakes’ high school coach Joe Mantegna told Pittsburgh Sports Now. “His will to win is literally his best feature.”
Coaching Blakes since he was a freshman in high school, Mantegna has seen his development on and off the court firsthand.
“I have had him for four years, he’s been here since he was a 14-year-old freshman,” Mantegna added. “I think his IQ and his feel for how to run a team and decision making have improved the most from when he was 14 to now.”
Mantegna is no stranger to leaders at the basketball powerhouse that he has built at Blair Academy, as he has coached countless college players and even some that have gone on to the NBA. After seeing all of those players pass through, Mantegna still believes that Blakes is right up there with the best of them.
“He is an Ivy League student,” he said. “He is one of the top two or three leaders that I have ever had here. I have had over 70 division one guys, we have won a million games, and after Royal Ivey and Luol Deng, he might be the best leader I have ever had here. Both of those guys played in the NBA for ten years. He just has a tremendous ability to will himself and his teammates into doing what is needed to win games.”
As for Blakes’ commitment timeline, no date has been set as of now. Mantegna explained that because of the craziness in the basketball recruiting world right now, Blakes’ decision to start narrowing down his list will most likely come sooner rather than later.
“We are letting the musical chairs start to happen,” he said. “Now that the musical chairs are happening- kids are transferring, coaches are taking different jobs- now is the time to start to decide who has openings and what everyone is going to do, so that is kind of where we are on that.”