LORETTO, CAMBRIA COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — Saint Francis will look to do something it has not done in 30 years.
That would be to make the NCAA tournament with one of their stars looking to finish a comeback story for the ages.
Saint Francis possesses the last NEC player of the year winners in Keith Braxton and Isaiah Blackmon, both with similar paths to Loretto.
But one big difference making this year’s recipient stand out
Sometimes it’s the journey, not the final destination that defines a player.
“I’ll put his mental toughness up against anyone,” said Rob Krimmel: Saint Francis Head Coach.
Growing up in Charlotte, North Carolina, Isaiah Blackmon had his sights set on college. The youngest of eight, Blackmon shined on the court, except no colleges seemed to notice.
“It was definitely hard, spirits were down,” said Isaiah Blackmon: Saint Francis senior guard.
No division one school offered him until late a tiny school in Loretto, Pennsylvania
“I remember sitting up in his office, and he gave his spiel, and I cut him off, I’m like, ‘coach, I’m coming! There’s no place I’d rather be,” said Blackmon.
Blackmon set out to prove his doubters wrong and thrived — until one day his freshman season.
“I was in complete shock. We’re playing Bryant here, I’m just going up for a rebound, and I’m up there like this is freshman year Isaiah like super athletic, so I’m up there, and I have it in my hands, and I’m coming down, and I just land like this, and it just snaps. I couldn’t even move. I couldn’t get up,” said Blackmon.
Blackmon tore his ACL.
“It was a whole new challenge for me like there were points where I said, ‘i’m done I’m going home to get a job,” said Blackmon.
Instead, He rehabbed and recovered, Blackmon returned to the court, two years later, deja vu
“When I went down, I heard it snap again, my leg shot inward, I felt it like damn I started crying because I already knew what had happened, I knew my season was over three games in.”
Doubt crept in.
“This is the second time tearing my leg, like is this it for me, or should I keep going?”
Somehow someway, Blackmon found his way back to the court, taking his game to new heights, earning NEC player of the year this season
“I remember going to my room, and I just started crying because I had accomplished something I had set out to do for a long time,” said Blackmon.
Blackmon’s final destination in Loretto approaches fast, but it’s his journey that’s defined him.
“To see him come out of it with a smile on his face, and all of the challenges he faced not only physically, but mentally and emotionally, and credit to him, it’s a special story,” said Krimmel.