By GERRY STEELE
Of the Baker City Herald
Hundreds of thousands of collegiate and professional basketball players go through their entire careers without ever being considered for their respective basketball Hall of Fames. That's what makes it even more interesting that a Baker City second-grader may receive that honor next month at the tender age of eight.
Dillon Blankenship, son of Dan and Sheryl Blankenship of Baker City, will join 11 other youngsters April 26 at the National Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., to compete for the national Elks Hoop Shoot championship.
andquot;I think it's really cool,andquot; he said Wednesday.
If Dillon wins the national title, his name will be added to a plaque displayed in the Hall of Fame along with past winners.
Dillon, 8, is a second grade student at North Baker Elementary School in Baker City. He earned the right to compete in Springfield after winning titles at the school, local, district, state and regional levels over the past two months.
Reaching Springfield may sound like a big thing to most people, but Dillon said he planned to be there when he took his first shot at the school competition.
andquot;My goal was to make it to the nationals,andquot; he said.
As an added bonus during the week of activities at the Hall of Fame, the museum will be closed to the public one evening to allow the competitors a private tour of the facility. They also will be the guest of a former NBA player who will present a talk for them.
It's got to be the jersey
Dillon has had all of his success in his first full year of competition. He also won the competition at North Baker a year ago as a seven-year-old, but was too young to compete in the actual Elks competition.
This year he made 9 of 10 free throws to win the school title. Then, at the local competition at Baker Middle School, he made 19 of 25 shots.
That was good enough to qualify him for district where he just missed a perfect score, hitting 24 of 25. So, what did he do at the next stop at state? He was a perfect 25 of 25. The only competitor to make all of his shots.
Then, at the regional competition last weekend at Portland, Blankenship, shooting first, finished 21 of 25 to advance to the national competition.There were only two 8-year-olds in the 8-9-year-old division, so Blankenship was competing against slightly older youngsters in his age group.
His secret? He always wears his lucky No. 8 Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers jersey when competing.
andquot;I always wear the same clothes, and grandma has to wear the same clothes,andquot; he said.
andquot;I like Kobe Bryant. He's the best.andquot;
Practice, practice, practice
Dillon said he doesn't do anything special to prepare for each competition except shoot, shoot, and shoot some more.
andquot;I just shoot,andquot; he said. andquot;I practice about an hour each day. Sometimes I'll shoot about 25 shots. But, if I'm in the gym, I usually shoot 30 or 40 shots.andquot;
Dillon practices his free throws on his own basket at the family residence, and at the Baker County Family YMCA.
His father, Dan, said that the week before a competition, Dillon will practice three of four nights during the week at the Y.
And, his dad said, his youngest son doesn't let up.
andquot;The day we got home from regionals, he was out shooting free throws within about 10 minutes,andquot; he said.
A family rivalry! Sort of
Dillon often practices with his dad and his older brother, Derek.
andquot;He beats dad every time,andquot; his father said, drawing a smile from Dillon.
Dillon has a friendly rivalry with his brother.
andquot;Derek told him to tell you that (Derek's) the best basketball player there ever was,andquot; their father said.
andquot;I told him I won't do it,andquot; Dillon said.
Their father said Derek has tried to convince Dillon that he taught him everything he knows.
It's possible that Dillon has picked up a thing or two from his brother. Derek won the district title in his age group last year, and advanced to the state competition before being eliminated.
andquot;I like to challenge Derek,andquot; Dillon said. andquot;He's never beat me. We don't do it very much, but I always beat him.andquot;
A love for sports
Dillon has played YMCA basketball and soccer, and Little League baseball. He said he enjoys basketball just slightly more than baseball, but likes them both about the same.
Dillon said he likes the Oregon Ducks, Washington Huskies and Washington State Cougars, andquot;but I don't like the (Oregon State) Beavers,andquot; he said.
Dillon said he'd like to be the next Kobe Bryant, but first things first.
andquot;I like LaBron James,andquot; he said of the nationally-known high school star. andquot;On the Bulldogs, I like Joe Sullivan. When I get to high school I want to play basketball.andquot;
Dillon's favorite NBA team is the Dallas Mavericks, especially Steve Nash, Michael Findlay, Dirk Niwotski and Nick Van Exel.
andquot;I saw them play the Trail Blazers last year, and the Mavericks whupped 'em,andquot; he said.
Blazers are no big deal
As for the Blazers, Dillon can take them or leave them.
andquot;I kind of like Scottie Pippen and Bonzi Wells, but I don't really like the Blazers,andquot; he said.
And, Dillon said, he could give some pointers to the Trail Blazers about shooting free throws.
andquot;I make them better than they do sometimes,andquot; he said.
But, though they aren't his favorite team, Dillon and his family have tickets to see Portland host Sacramento and Washington at the Rose Garden during Spring Break.
A baseball dream come true
Dillon said his favorite baseball player is Texas shortstop Alex Rodriguez. His favorite pitcher is Boston's Pedro Martinez, and his favorite team the Seattle Mariners.
In fact, after the upcoming Little League season, the Blankenships will take in major league games at Colorado, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Anaheim, Oakland, San Diego and Arizona.
andquot;We've been planning this for quite a while,andquot; his father said.
Support from his classmates
Dillon's classmates have heaped on the encouragement after his latest success at regionals.
andquot;My classmates think it's pretty cool that I'm going to Springfield. They said good job,andquot; he said.
He added that the trip to Massachusetts will be the longest he has ever made.
andquot;The longest I've made so far is Hawaii,andquot; he said, adding that he enjoys flying.
andquot;I like the window seats. I like to look down a long ways. It's pretty cool, and I like the airports.andquot;
An active 8-year-old
When he doesn't have a basketball in his hand, Dillon has many of the same interests as most 8-year-olds.
andquot;I like to build Legos, ride my bike, and do stuff on the computer,andquot; he said.
andquot;And, I like to go to the cabin and the river where we go hiking, skiing, and we have a Super Nintendo to play. We also build snow caves and forts out of wood.andquot;
Dillon said he likes phyiscal education and reading in school, and math is OK, but he doesn't like the andquot;factsandquot; stuff.
Doug Riggs of the Baker City Elks Club will accompany the Blankenships to Springfield.
andquot;Doug told Dillon he'd always wanted to go to the Hall of Fame, so when Dillon earned the chance he asked Doug to go as the local representative,andquot; Dan said.
Dillon said winning the national title this year won't be good enough for him.
andquot;I can still win five more national titles in a row,andquot; he said, smiling.
Coincidently, that's exactly how many more years he can compete in the Elks Hoop Shoot.