St. Joseph's Grad Finds The Range In The Cba

Posted: May 06, 1991

David Robinson hasn't done it. Neither has Hakeem Olajuwon.

That means Texas-sized Rodney Blake - a man without a team just six months ago - became the first center to bring a professional basketball title to the Lone Star state when, on April 27, he and his fellow Wichita Falls Texans wrapped up the Continental Basketball Association championship.

Anyone who has seen the former Monsignor Bonner High and St. Joseph's University star would readily admit that Blake, a massive 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds, doesn't possess the athleticism of "The Admiral" or the leaping ability of "The Dream."

But Blake, whom the Wichita Falls fans embraced as "The Hammer," proved that he didn't need to have a neighborhood named after him to make his mark. And Blake, 24, is still hungry enough to believe that he has plenty left to offer.

"I can't really say that winning the CBA title was the greatest thing to happen in my career," Blake said last week after returning - along with wife, Sherry - from Texas to his mother's home in Sharon Hill.

"At St. Joe's in '86, when we won the Atlantic Ten Tournament and advanced two rounds in the NCAAs, that was pretty special," Blake said, recalling his sophomore season with the Hawks. Blake also won consecutive Catholic League crowns at Bonner in 1983 and '84.

What Blake did for Wichita Falls was raise the level of his game at the most opportune time, choosing the playoffs to increase both his scoring and

rebounding averages well above his regular-season numbers.

The Texans, who finished second to Tulsa in the CBA's Western Division in the regular season, rode a hot streak down the stretch and throughout the postseason to a 4-games-to-3 win over the Quad City (Iowa) Thunder in the championship series.

Former University of Alabama standout point guard Ennis Whatley led the charge from the perimeter. Blake, the Texans' go-to guy in the paint, responded by scoring 14.7 points (almost a full seven points above his season

average) and grabbing 12 rebounds (four above his season average) per game in the playoffs.

Blake, St. Joe's all-time leader in blocked shots with 419, also was a force on the defensive end for the Texans, combining with 7-foot teammate Kurt Portmann to block 49 shots in the playoffs and hold Quad City to a record-low 44.7 percent field-goal shooting in the finals.

Few, including Blake, could have foreseen the storybook ending in Wichita Falls, a community of 94,000 in north-central Texas founded on oil and agriculture.

After the death of his father, Otha, in September, Blake made brief appearances at the free-agent camps of the Portland Trailblazers and the Chicago Bulls. What followed was a period of uncertainty, a time when Blake figured he would "break out the resume and start looking for a job."

That was before the Texans came calling, at the request of assistant coach Mike Davis. Davis had played against Blake, then with the Charleston (S.C.) Gunners, in the CBA in 1989 and was impressed enough that he remembered him when Wichita Falls head coach John Treloar went looking for a big man.

"I knew he could rebound and block shots," Davis said. "But I didn't know he could score as much as he did. Once he got into shape, Hammer became our go-to guy inside."

Even after Blake hooked up with the Texans, he wasn't sure how long the relationship would last. Blake had already been burned once, when the club team he played for in Germany during the 1989-90 season folded because of

financial problems.

"I was in bad shape when I got to Wichita Falls," Blake conceded. "I had Achilles problems and I thought they were going to get rid of me . . . until Mike (Davis) spoke up in my behalf."

Blake played sparingly at the start of the season, but as his minutes increased, so did his popularity with the Texans' faithful.

"Sherry and I had no problem whatsoever adjusting to Wichita Falls," Blake said. "Sure, we're both used to life in a big city, but the people there were unbelievably nice. Going into a supermarket or walking down the street, you have strangers say 'Hi.' There were times when we'd go out to eat in a restaurant and a fan would pay for our meal."

To hear him tell it, one might think that Blake has taken to the small-city atmosphere, grown fond of the quaint 5,000-seat D. L. Ligon Coliseum and perhaps even become accustomed to the Texans' navy blue uniforms with neon pink and lime green trim.

"You've heard the expression 'Here today, gone tomorrow?' " Blake asked. ''Well, in the CBA, the saying goes 'Here today, gone today.' I don't know what I'll be doing or where I'll be next season. I know now that this is a job, and I'll be wherever I can make some money."

No doubt that his fan club, especially the diehard who presented to him an oversized toy hammer with his nickname and number lined in sequins, hope Blake will be back in the Texans' saddle again.

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