Vernell Blackman didn’t like basketball growing up.
He would rather play video games or surf the Internet. Even when his father Rolando, the former New York City basketball legend and Dallas Mavericks star, got him on the playground one day, at the age of 6, he wouldn’t oblige. It was too hot.
He attended Mavericks’ games, enjoying them only because he watched his father shine.
But then, the summer after his sophomore year of high school, that changed. He grew nearly a foot, from 5-feet-4, to 6-feet-1. He spent July and August in New York City with Ted Gustus, Rolando’s youth coach and longtime friend, and suddenly took a liking to the sport, playing on local playgrounds in Brownsville, Brooklyn.
Two years later, Vernell is a senior, starting at power forward for Canarsie in Brooklyn AA, the PSAL’s best division. He moved to Brooklyn from Dallas, Texas with Gustus to pursue basketball.
“I wanted a good opportunity to learn,” he said. “In Texas, it’s all about football.”
A newcomer to the sport, Vernell is proving to be a quick study. After receiving little time as a junior, he is one of the Chiefs’ top offensive threats, averaging 11 points and 10 rebounds per game in five league contests. In a 59-52 loss to Forest Hills last Saturday, Vernell was the best player in the paint on either team, scoring 19 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. Coaches from Buffalo University, Gustus said, approached him afterward about the performance.
“He’s come a long way,” Gustus said. “He’s athletic, he runs the court very well. It was just a matter of teaching him how to play. He developed a passion to play. He has a lot of upside.”
Gustus, who has coached at Brooklyn Catholic schools Bishop Loughlin and Nazareth and John Jay College, said Vernell, although raw, can play Division I basketball. He may grow more, too, adding inches to his 6-foot-4 frame. He will likely go to prep school after graduating from Canarsie for more game experience.
“He’s willing to learn,” Canarsie coach Tommy