LHS point guard leaving his mark

Loudon High School senior Donavon Blankenship drives down the court Feb. 23 in the Redskins’ 53-50 win over the Sequoyah High School Chiefs in the District 5-2A tournament championship.

Donavon Blankenship arrived at Loudon High School as a freshman four years ago hoping to just make a spot on the varsity basketball roster, but now he is leaving as one of the best to ever don the red and white on the hardwood.

Ever since taking over the starting point guard role as a sophomore, Blankenship has earned three consecutive All-District 5-2A first team selections and two All-Region 3-2A nominations.

“I definitely think I came a long way because when I was in eighth grade, you think you’re good in middle school and all that,” Blankenship said. “All my cousins and brothers told me it was going to be different world when I got to high school and I knew it was going to be different but when I got in my first practice there as a freshman, I was like, ‘Whoa, I’m not the best player out here anymore.’ As I went along in my freshman year, I kind of caught up to speed by the end of my freshman year.”

In his sophomore season, Blankenship played a key role in helping the Redskins get off to a historic 19-0 start and guided Loudon to the Region 3-2A quarterfinals under first-year head coach Josh Graves.

“My sophomore year and because I started as a sophomore, I really felt like I was ready and more than able to compete at the high school level,” Blankenship said. “Not to sound cocky or anything, I never knew I would be as good as I was. My freshman year, I knew my brother was going to be gone the next year so that was my hope and my dream was I wanted to start the next year, and that happened. The first time I really realized that, ‘Hey, maybe I am pretty good,’ was when I became an All-District player as a sophomore because I thought that not a lot of people really get to do that.”

Graves knew he had a special talent in Blankenship when he first stepped foot on campus in the spring of 2018 after returning home from Sequoyah High School.

“I just think that the caliber of player that he his and the quality of young man that he is, when you put those two together, you couldn’t ask for a better leader of the program the last three years,” Graves said. “He kind of come into his own in the middle of his sophomore year and really stepped up and did a lot for us when people started taking away Mason (Small) and J.D. (Thaxton) and (Caleb) Dutton. I credit a lot of our success that first year to just how he stepped up and didn’t let him being the only sophomore playing stop him from doing that, and he just carried all that on him into his junior and senior year.”

Blankenship established himself as one of the best point guards in Region 3-2A last season as a junior after he led the team offensively with 488 total points, 71 three-pointers and averaged 17.5 points per game with a season-high 32 points against Maryville Christian School.

He also proved a defensive machine after tallying 132 rebounds, 40 steals, 24 deflections and five blocks. Blankenship guided the Redskins to the District 5-2A championship game and was named to the All-District 5-2A and All-Tournament teams as well as being named to the TN Prep Hoops All-Region 3-2A team.

“He’s a gifted player and anybody that’s watched him play knows what a special talent he is, but it’s just the way he went about it,” Graves said. “Every single day, whether it was workouts, open gym, shoot around, practice, game, tournament, you knew what you were going to get out of Donavon Blankenship every day. A lot of that was his work ethic and just how he carried himself and what he demanded of himself and what he demanded of his teammates. He’s always going to be a guy that we can look back to and see his character and how he led our team and compare that and show that is how success happens when you have a guy like that leading your team.”

Surprisingly enough, Blankenship showed even more improvement this season as a senior, where he led Loudon to its first District 5-2A regular season and tournament championship for the first time since 2007.

He was an effective playmaker after totaling 597 points and averaging 23 points per game, including a season-high 34-point performance Jan. 30 in the Redskins’ 57-43 win over rival Lenoir City High School. He also led the team with 205 rebounds, 56 steals and a 79% free throw percentage.

In addition, Blankenship was named the district’s Most Valuable Player in both the regular season and postseason tournament. He was also selected to the All-Region 3-2A first team and was a finalist for the Tennessee Sports Writers Association Class 2A All-State first team.

“When we got that district championship, that really meant everything to me, to our team and to Coach Graves as well because that was his first time getting one,” Blankenship said. “Just the fact that in four years of high school, that’s all you talk about is getting a district championship. None of my brothers, none of my cousins got to do it but when we got the opportunity to get there and we finally did it, it was like, ‘Wow, we accomplished something nobody could get in a long time.’ It really meant a lot to us. Getting that first region win also meant a lot to us.”

Graves believes Blankenship is a once-in-a-generation player and will point future players back to these last four years as an example to look to.

“There’s been a lot of great players before my time, but scored almost 1,500 points and did it essentially in three years,” Graves said. “You can’t put into account everything he brought to the table defensively, physically, his leadership. In my opinion, he has to be in the top five or even the top three in school history. There’s been some great basketball players and I can think of some guys when I was growing up, but he’s got to be up there.”