ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – Blake Ahearn often takes parents and prospective De Smet Jesuit High School students on campus tours, and because he graduated from there in 2003, he’s often asked ‘what was his experience like?’
“I’ve played basketball with some of the best in the world,” Ahearn says. “I’ve gotten to meet some movie stars all these different types of people. And I would say I’d give my right arm to walk these halls again.”
Ahearn was a stand out on the basketball court for the Spartans in the early 2000s. He went on to earn Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year, and two-time All-Conference player status at Missouri State University. After setting an NCAA record for career free throw percentage (.9457), he spent the next eight years of his life playing in the NBA for Greg Popivich in San Antonio, Pat Reily in Miami and all around the world for international and D-League teams.
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Although this is his first season coaching his Alma Mater, Ahearn has been back home since last year. He was hired at Clayton High School for his first head coaching job.
The 2016-17 Spartans are 3-2 to start the Ahearn era, which he admits will be a challenge to deal with the changes of a new regime. He met with some of the Spartan seniors at the beginning of the year and asked them what they expected.
“They said they just want to get better,” Ahearn says. “Usually guys talk about state championship, 20 win games all that kind of stuff, but most of them say they just want to get better. And that’s a great thing to hear as a coach.”
One of those seniors is Ryan Stipanovich, a solid 6′ 7″ forward who will play basketball at Bradley University next year. He said he’s known of Ahearn from attending youth basketball camps coached by the De Smet grad. Stipanovich says it’s not surprising to see Ahead pick the ball back up everyone once in awhile.
“Oh yeah, he can still shoot it,” Stipanovich says. “He’s so smart, his basketball IQ, and he knows a lot about (the game).”
Ahearn will quickly need to lend those skills to the Spartans, who tout one of the toughest schedules in the area. Nine of it’s 19 games scheduled will be against against top-10 (preseason rankings by STL Today) teams the St. Louis area. That includes each of the top three teams: Edwardsville, Chaminade and SLUH (twice); plus two games against No. 8 CBC and a game against the No. 4 small school Cardinal Ritter. Then there is Vianney, a bubble team to start the year, who the Spartans will also play twice.
“That’s a good thing for us,” Ahearn says. “You know competition. And coming in and implementing a new style, a new mindset can be challenging at times. But the best thing is we’ve got boys here who work their butts off.”
De Smet’s 2015-16 campaign ended in the District Championship game to Hazelwood Central, who went on to lose to eventually Class 5 State Champions, Chaminade.
Adding to De Smet’s new style under Ahearn, there is also a new talent, in junior guard Brooks Ford – son of new Saint Louis University head coach Travis Ford. Traveling from Kentucky to Massachusetts to Oklahoma and now in St. Louis, following his dad’s college coaching career, he’s surly seen a wide variety of coaches.
He says from Ahearn, he has learned to take his licks, then come back even harder through the course of a game. Which is helping make him mentally tougher, he says.
“I think (Ahearn) is really vocal,” Ford says. “He knows what he wants and he preaches it to us. He prepares us real well for every game and he preaches hard work and toughness.”
When Ahearn gets back on the court, back in the maroon and gold, he says he doesn’t recover the way he used to. But in his first year, nostalgia seems to have followed.
“I remember telling one of the referees you know just during the course of the action ‘I don’t think these guys realize how much fun they are having.’ Because just that atmosphere that electric community that we have, it was pretty neat.”
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