Standing at five-foot-seven, it’s not hard to imagine that Chris Blackwood gets asked a lot of questions about his height, or that he gets tired of answering them.
“I’ve been playing basketball for a long time and I’ve just gotten used to it,” says the second-year Concordia guard, who played a major role in the men’s basketball team’s run to the National Championship final two weeks ago. “It just means that I have to play harder.”
Not only did this season mark Concordia’s first national appearance since 2000, but it was also the first time the team advanced to the championship game since 1995. What made their run all the more impressive was that they were the shortest team at the tournament with only two players standing over six-foot-three. Although Blackwood was the shortest player competing at the nationals, he still managed to be one of Concordia’s most consistent threats with a strong outside shot and the ability to cut around defenders.
Apart from his surprising potency on offence, Blackwood was also one of the best defensive players in the Quebec Conference this year, where he finished second in steals behind his all-Canadian teammate Philippe Langlois. His numbers were good enough to finish near the top of a couple other Quebec statistics, including assists (eighth) and three-point percentage (seventh).
By now, most people know that Concordia lost the championship game to Carleton in a disappointing 68-48 defeat. The loss was a heartbreaker for everyone, including Blackwood, who admits that he has been mulling over that final game. He has watched the Mar. 20 game several times since then.
“It hurt knowing we could have performed better in the final…I thought this could have been our year. We really could have won.”
The Toronto native also insists this veteran team will have to come together even stronger next year to compensate for the loss of Langlois, who was the team captain this past season.
“All of us are going to have to step up and show leadership. I’m up for the challenge of filling that role and trying to get us out of the Quebec conference again.”
After speaking with Blackwood and listening to his invariable desire to win and help make Concordia a better team, it’s hard to believe how close he came to playing for another university, Brandon, which also made it to the nationals this year.
In July 2003, Brandon University declared they had successfully wooed Blackwood, a much sought after prospect coming out of Champlain College, to play for their team. Despite Brandon’s confidence, Blackwood was a triple-A first team all-star at Champlain and was blessed with the opportunity to play pretty much anywhere he wanted.
After some careful consideration and listening to the advice of those close to him, the decision was made that Concordia would be the more suitable fit.
“Brandon did a lot of exceptional things for me. They flew me to the school and I received a hand-written letter from the president of the school,” the human relations major says. “But my mom and coach at Champlain explained to me that a degree from Concordia might look a bit better than one from Brandon.”
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The necessary follow-up to that topic of discussion was to once again bring up Blackwood’s apparent height disadvantage; one may wonder exactly how a player so small could become so successful and desired by competing teams.
“I think even when I was in my senior year of high school I was still one of the smallest guys. And to still be an all-star and be leading my team to a championship game, even if we didn’t win, was an accomplishment in itself,” explains Blackwood. “I was playing against guys that went on to play for teams like UConn [University of Connecticut] and West Virginia.”
The 22-year-old credits an earlier interest in soccer for the blazing speed he uses to run the floor and get open looks at the basket. “Before I started playing basketball I was the only one out of all my friends playing soccer. It really helped me develop my footwork.”
Although soccer might have contributed to the athleticism he shows today, Blackwood says his greatest source of inspiration to become the most he could on the hardcourt, was the same person that helped him choose Concordia for an education.
“My mom instilled a sense of discipline in me and has always been a big part of my life,” he says. “It would be nice for her if I got a degree.”
When it comes to life outside of basketball, it’s clear that these positive influences have helped to show Blackwood what’s important in life. “All I really want is a good nine to five job that can help my family. I just want to be successful and happy. If you’re not happy there’s no point in living.”
Through his success in basketball and school Blackwood is trying to serve as a mentor to his 17-year-old brother (five-foot-nine and growing) who plays basketball in high school. “Now that I started university, I’ve got a lot of people back home looking out for him and making sure that he’s doing the right thing.”
He is also doing his best to give something back to his community of Jane-Finch in Toronto. Once an area with one of Canada’s highest crime rates, Blackwood says growing up in Jane-Finch provided a challenge to himself and others.
“I have friends who took the drug route and got into things like that. Now I’m doing what I can to represent the community.”
According to Blackwood the response has been extremely positive
“Everybody in my community knows about me. It was great how many people called me after the nationals.”
Blackwood will have a chance to go back to Jane-Finch this summer and thank the people of the community in person.
Seven months from now Blackwood will be back on the court with the Stingers as they get set to defend their Provincial Championship title and look to finish what they started this season.
“Now I know what it takes to go to the Nationals. I think we can get back there again.”