In the biggest games of Grand Canyon’s brief Division I history, Jovan Blacksher Jr. did not shy away from the spotlight. He emerged as the Lopes’ leader and guided the program to its first appearance in March Madness. Now in his junior year, he has elevated his game even more.
Blacksher scored 19 points and pulled down seven rebounds in 36 minutes to help GCU defeat New Mexico State in the WAC championship last March and was named tournament MVP. The day before he recorded 15 points, six rebounds and five assists in the Lopes’ semifinal win against Seattle.
These two games, coupled with his 15 points in GCU’s NCAA Tournament first round loss to Iowa, jumped his scoring average up to 12.0 points per game, which was third highest on the team. This season he is pouring in 16.7 points per game.
“You just kind of saw the progression late in the year,” GCU assistant coach Jamall Walker said. “You could see him take more ownership in the team and taking a bigger role in our team, and obviously you saw it in the championship game in the WAC Tournament.”
He was the top returning scorer from that championship team as First Team All-WAC selections Asbjørn Midtgaard and Alessandro Lever graduated. They combined for 27.5 points per game and are both playing overseas.
In their absence, Blacksher expanded his game and improved his scoring average by more than 4.5 points per contest. He scored in double figures in 26 consecutive games – a streak that came to an end on Saturday, when he scored just four points in a 61-60 loss at Dixie State. He netted his 1,000 career point Wednesday night with a 16-point performance in the Lopes’ 65-60 win at California Baptist.
“I knew I needed to take a big step,” he said. “We needed somebody that could score and still control our team, run our team.”
The 5-foot-11-inch guard is shooting the ball markedly better this season as well. In his first two years, he shot 29.7% from 3-point range. As a junior, he is shooting 39.8% from beyond the arc, which ranks third in the conference.
“Every year [my game] is going up,” said Blacksher, a consensus preseason All-WAC first team selection. “That’s all that matters – progression. I feel like I’m shooting the ball way more confidence and letting it fly.”
A native of Oakland, Calif., Blacksher moved to the Phoenix area about 10 years ago. Playing at Shadow Mountain High School, he developed a relationship with GCU early on as the Lopes’ coaching staff recruited some of his older teammates. When he started getting recruited, GCU was one of the first programs to offer a scholarship.
He has started every game of his college career, and the experience he gained from playing so much right away has paid dividends in his development.
“The biggest improvement, which I could pick a lot of different areas, is his leadership,” second year head coach Bryce Drew said. “He’s really taken some ownership in his leadership within the team.”
Blacksher is one of four players in the country to average 16 points and 4 assists per game and shoot 39% from 3-point land. He was named to Lou Henson Midseason Watch List – an award given to the nation’s top mid-major player.
“He kind of gets anywhere on the court with his dribble,” said Walter Ellis, who is in his first season playing alongside Blacksher. “He can dribble through three, four guys if he needs to, and his pull-ups are really good… For a guy his size to be able to finish around the rim, he’s just really complete on offense, [and a] really good passer as well. We don’t even need to talk about defense. He can pick you up 94 [feet] if you need that too.”
GCU is tied for fourth in the WAC at 9-4, just two games out of first place. The Lopes have five games remaining with four of them at home. They host New Mexico State, who is tied for first, Saturday night at 6 p.m. MT on ESPN+.