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MMI coach Blanton faces recruiting challenge head-on

It’s a lazy Thursday summer afternoon, and the MMI campus appears nearly deserted. Except in the school’s gymnasium, where Marion Military Institute junior college basketball coach Al Blanton is working out a possible recruit for next season’s MMI juco team.

“It’s all about the angle,” he tells Adrian Manuel, a former state champion at J.F. Shields High School and a native of Beatrice. “If the ball comes in like this”-he holds his hand flat-“it doesn’t nearly have nearly as good a chance of going in, right, than if it comes in like this,” he says, mobbing his hand in a downward motion.

It could be said that in basketball, taking the proper angle is as much a part of coaching as it is in shooting. Blanton is experiencing that first hand as he has spent the summer on the recruiting trail for the first time in his coaching career, after joining MMI in mid-season last January.

“It’s been a lot more difficult than I thought it would be,” he says. “It’s been kind of a learn-as-you-go thing for me. It’s all about networking, getting your name out there and getting the school’s name out there, helping other schools understand what we’re all about. My job is to transmit the character and reputation of MMI around the state.”

With only five players returning for the 2005-06 season and none of his top three scorers, Blanton needed to fill a lot of holes. His job was made even more difficult by the fact that he got a late start, earning the job with the season in full swing and little time to spend on the recruiting trail.

But despite these obstacles and his inexperience, Blanton has had his share of success so far, having already convinced seven recruits to come play at MMI next season. MMI’s national reputation as a solid military institute has helped Blanton recruit players from as far away as Colorado.

“We’ve got a group of kids coming in from across the country,” he says. “One of the great things about MMI is the diversity.”

But Blanton adds that most of his players will need to come from Alabama. Even for more local recruits, he says, MMI’s military reputation can be a big help rather than a hindrance.

“It’s a structured environment,” he says. “As we all know, college students need some structure and some balance, and MMI provides that.”

It’s a point-of-view Adrian’s mother, Debel Manuel, agrees with as she watches Blanton and Adrian work through a set of drills.

“I like it,” she says of her first impressions of MMI. “Any child needs structure.”

Debel’s approval, it would seem, may make it even more likely that Adrian will also be a part of Blanton’s initial recruiting class.

“Adrian is certainly somebody we’re interested in,” he says. “We look at the total person, not just their skills on a basketball court. We emphasize academics. We want out basketball players to become better people as well as better basketball players.”