Thursday, January 22, 2004

Hawaii's Jeff Blackett has increased his production as he's gotten more comfortable with the Rainbows' system.

Blackett fitting
in nicely

The UH forward has made
adjustments on and off
the court

Jeff Blackett steps to the free-throw line and lines up a shot, only to see the ball bounce off the rim and onto the floor.

And amid the thousands of voices in the Stan Sheriff Center, the Hawaii forward can make out one above the rest.

"Hey, Blackett, make a free throw."

UTEP at Hawaii

When: Today, 7 p.m.

Where: Stan Sheriff Center


Radio: Live, 1420-AM


Tickets: Lower Level, $15 (single seats only); Upper Level (adult) $11; Upper Level (student, UH) $5; Super Rooter $8. Parking: $3.

Blackett resets and sinks the next shot, thus appeasing the source of the call -- his wife, Lindsey.

"It doesn't matter how many people are here, I can always pick out her voice," Jeff Blackett said.

Blackett, the only married player on this year's UH basketball team, has emerged as a key contributor off the bench for the Rainbow Warriors in recent games and Lindsey has been there to support and coach him through the transition from junior college to Division I basketball.

"She comes from a really athletic family, there's times I think she knows more about basketball than me," Jeff Blackett said. "The advice she gives me I really take to heart because she does know what she's talking about."

Life has been a constant stream of adjustments for the Blacketts lately. First, there was the wedding a year and a half ago. Then they left behind their families in Utah last fall as Jeff began his career at UH.

As they've adjusted to life in the islands, Jeff has gradually adapted to the Rainbows' system on the court. He is averaging 6.3 points per game entering UH's Western Athletic Conference meeting with Texas-El Paso tonight at the Sheriff Center.

He enjoyed his most productive night of the season in UH's 83-76 win at San Jose State on Jan. 10, when he came off the bench to score 19 points, the last five coming in the final minute as the 'Bows held off a rally by the Spartans.

He followed that performance with his first career double-double as he scored 11 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in a 66-65 victory over Southern Methodist.

"I was so happy because I know Jeff's potential," Lindsey Blackett said of her husband's performance at SJSU. "I watched him play the last couple years and I think it was kind of a breakthrough for him.

"I have seen Jeff play really well in his basketball career up 'til now, so I was waiting for it to happen. It calmed him down; he feels a little bit more in the groove."

Lindsey is one of 11 children (she has six sisters and four brothers) born to the Henry family and played basketball at Mountain View High School in Orem, Utah.

Jeff played with three of her brothers at Salt Lake Community College. He was teammates with Scott and Dan Henry two years ago and played alongside Tim Henry last year.

He transferred to UH after two seasons at SLCC and played sporadically early in the season. But with time and practice, Blackett has grown more comfortable in the flex-motion offense. He said playing behind a four-year starter in Phil Martin has also helped him grasp the scheme.

"The more you run it the more you know what's going to be open and where to look and what gaps to go into," Blackett said. "It's been nice playing with someone like Phil who's been around it for a long time and you can just pick up on what he does."

In addition to the guidance he receives from the UH coaches, Blackett also gets a post-game evaluation from Lindsey, who nudged him to become more aggressive with the ball when she noticed him playing tentatively around the basket early in the season.

"I had a couple right underneath the basket that I missed, just layups," Jeff recalled, "and she said, 'Why don't you just dunk it?' because she knows that I can and she's seen me do it before."

Since then Blackett has become one of the team's most frequent dunkers. He snuffed a San Jose State rally with a dunk in the final minute of the game. He was fouled and converted the crucial three-point play.

"When he goes in there, he's going for a two-handed dunk because he's got good hops," UH coach Riley Wallace said. "If you don't know about him and you give him a seam, he'll bury it in a hurry."

Lindsey had never lived apart from her family before moving to Hawaii. Tim Henry considered following the Blacketts to the islands, but eventually decided to attend Wyoming, where he has started 15 games and is averaging 6.5 points for the Cowboys.

Lindsey said being on their own has helped the couple grow, while Tim has also gotten a taste of independence at Wyoming.

"It's kind of bittersweet, because I wanted (Tim) to come and have family here besides my husband," she said. "But it's worked out for the better.

"I think he looked at that when he was here, saying, 'Should I come with Jeff and Lindsey or should I go on my own and experience things?' "

With his role with the Rainbows expanding lately, Jeff Blackett hopes to continue giving the team a boost off the bench during the rest of the WAC season. And he knows if he needs a lift during a game, all he has to do is glance into the stands.

"I can look up and see her and she'll be motioning for me to do something," Blackett said. "It's really comforting to know she's up there and giving me that support."

Probable starters
UTEP (12-3, 3-2) Ht. Pts. Reb. Ast.
G Filiberto Rivera (Jr.) 6-2 10.8 2.9 4.7
G Chris Craig (Sr.) 6-1 8.9 2.8 2.9
F Jason Williams (So.) 6-6 11.4 5.7 3.8
F Omar Thomas (Jr.) 6-5 15.9 5.1 0.8
F Roy Smallwood (Sr.) 6-6 8.4 5.7 1.0

Hawaii (12-3, 4-1) Ht. Pts. Reb. Ast.
G Logan Lee (So.) 6-1 3.9 1.5 4.2
G Michael Kuebler (Sr.) 6-4 19.3 3.4 1.9
F Julian Sensley (So.) 6-9 10.5 7.4 3.7
F Phil Martin (Sr.) 6-8 12.4 5.5 1.1
C Haim Shimonovich (Sr.) 6-11 6.8 7.1 1.7

Notes: The first 100 UH students with a valid ID will receive free admission in the upper level. The tickets must be picked up at the SSC box office. ... Hawaii's three road wins cost Dr. Michael D'Andrea a few inches off his flowing locks yesterday. D'Andrea, one of the team's performance counselors, made a bet that if the 'Bows' swept the trip he would cut his hair. The players cashed in yesterday, shearing off more than 10 inches which will be donated to Locks of Love. ... UTEP center John Tofi is second on the team with 12.8 ppg. The sophomore has shared starting duties with Thomas at a forward spot. ... The Miners got into town on Monday, but UTEP coach Billy Gillispie discounted the impact the early arrival will have tonight. "People talk about the trip always being a factor in the game, but the biggest factor in the game, in my opinion, is how good Hawaii is every single year. That's the biggest reason teams don't come over here and play well."


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