Despite Setback, Blalock Chases NBA Dream
AMES, Iowa-Will Blalock was fresh off his second season as a professional basketball player when his life unexpectedly took a detour. The former Iowa State star guard, who played one season for the NBA’s Detroit Pistons (2006-07) and in stints in the NBDL and Jerusalem, was attempting to make an NBA comeback. As the Boston, Mass., native was boarding a plane at Logan International Airport destined to Seattle for the Sonics mini-camp, he noticed something was wrong with his body.
“It was crazy. I was on my way to mini-camp and I was getting ready to fly out,” Blalock recalled. “I was on the phone and next thing I knew I lost feeling on my whole left side of my body. I was not able to function right. I remember closing my eyes and when I opened them back up, I knew something was wrong. I could not feel the left side of my body. I couldn’t stand up and I couldn’t feel my arms and my legs.”
At the tender age of 24 and in prime physical shape, Blalock had suffered a stroke.
“They rushed me to a hospital, and after they did all the tests on me, they told me I had a mild stroke,” Blalock said. “I was on a whole bunch of medication and was in and out of the hospital. I had to take blood thinner because I had a blood clot in my neck, which caused the stroke. After that, I was not able to play for close to six months.”
A well-conditioned athlete like Blalock, who was drafted in the second round by the Pistons in the 2006 NBA Draft after an outstanding ISU career, is not thought of as your typical stroke victim.
However, dealing with complications from a stroke hasn't been the only health ailment Blalock has had to fight in his life. Most Cyclone fans are unaware that Blalock is a life-long sufferer of asthma. It’s something he has had to battle throughout his career since he was diagnosed with the condition as a child.
“I had terrible asthma and it is still a struggle,” Blalock said. “I have had it since I was five years old and it always gave me trouble when the seasons change and still to this day it does. I have to bring a pump around with me during the day and get hooked up onto a machine at night. It is tough sometimes, but for basketball it does not hold me back. I get tired just like any other human.”
ISU fans still reminisce about the jet-quick Blalock leading the Cyclones on the break during his three years in Ames from 2004-06. His uncanny ball-handling skills and dazzling no-look passes helped the Cyclones advance to the 2004 NIT semifinals and the second round of the 2005 NCAA Tournament. He is a member of ISU’s prestigious 1,000-point club (1,078) and still ranks fifth all-time in school history in career assists (464) and sixth in career steals (177).
Despite his setback, Blalock is not ready to give up on his dream of playing in the NBA again. He is making an extraordinary recovery, but it hasn’t come easy.
“For the first month and a half, I could not do anything. I had to completely shut it down,” Blalock said. “It was not a bad thing because I was able to be around my family and my son a whole lot more. But as far as playing ball, which is what I do for a living, it was aggravating not being able to play and only watch. After a month and a half I was able to run and jog and shoot. It gradually got better.”
Blalock’s break from basketball allowed him to reflect on his playing days at Iowa State. The 2004-05 season is special to Blalock. ISU began the season 0-5 in the Big 12, but bounced back to win seven-straight games, including a historic win at No. 2 Kansas, to sneak into the NCAA Tournament.
“That was a huge year for us,” Blalock said. “I remember it like it was yesterday. I will never forget what we did as a team that year. I remember my sophomore year a lot when we made that late run and all that stuff. I miss those days.”
A couple of games from his freshman year also trigger happy emotions for Blalock. He had a hand in the Cyclones’ 68-61 win over No. 15 Kansas and was a key part of ISU’s win over No. 11 Texas (78-77).
“The game against Kansas at home my freshman year when I came off the bench and had 11 assists with no turnovers is one of my favorites,” Blalock said. “Then when we beat Texas when they were ranked really high in the country and the kid (Brian Boddicker) missed the free throws at the end. I don’t think I ever heard Hilton any louder.”
For now, Blalock is ready to get back onto the court and resume his basketball career. It’s been a tough journey, but the point guard has worked vigorously to regain his physical condition and is eager to start competing again. He will get his chance this summer.
“Now I am back healthy and I want to give the NBA another shot,” Blalock says. “I am working out in Chicago right now preparing for NBA Summer League. At the end of next week, I am going to Indiana for the Pacers camp and then at the end of the month I have another mini-camp in Cleveland. I will play Summer League for Indiana in Orlando and then I will play for the Cavs in Las Vegas. If I don’t get picked up by an NBA team, I will probably go back over to Europe with another team.”
He will certainly have a legion of Cyclone fans rooting for him.