When Blake Ahearn starred for Missouri State basketball, he built a reputation.
“When I was a player, you go somewhere new, usually that’s how the interviews or conversations start, like ‘oh you’re the free throw guy’, or ‘I heard you made a few free throws,'” Ahearn said.
At MSU, Ahearn became college basketball’s all time free throw percentage leader. Yet, he says those four years meant so much more than what you can see on the stat sheet.
“The one thing that means so much to me is the people of Springfield, the university, the fans, they made Springfield my home for four years,” Ahearn said.
From 2003 to 2007, Ahearn led the Bears as a top two scorer on the team all four years, but it’s the off-court experience he cherishes the most.
“None of it compares to the relationships I made, and everywhere I go in the game of basketball, I value the relationships more than anything,” Ahearn said.
Ahearn credits his career overseas and in the NBA to those relationships and the foundation set by his parents as he grew up in St. Louis.
“My playing career and my short coaching career have taken me to 41 states, 19 countries on four different continents,” Ahearn said.
It’s a journey that’s landed him back on an NBA sideline as he was recently hired by the Memphis Grizzlies to be an assistant coach.
It’s something he’d never have guessed when his playing career ended, and he first started coaching in high school five years ago.
“[I] started at Clayton, then I got to my Alma mater at De Smet,” Ahearn said. “I’m like ‘I could be here for the next 30 years, I’m five minutes from my front door, this is great’.”
But then the chance to coach in the NBA G-League came calling, so Ahearn spent three years coaching the Austin Spurs. Now, he’s back to basketball’s highest level with Memphis.
“The ticket request have already stretched from Memphis to St. Louis because of the proximity and probably even a little to Springfield too,” Ahearn said.
Those requests will need to wait as the NBA hopes to finish the year without fans in Orlando.
“Right now [the Grizzlies are in] the eighth spot in the West and have the chance to hold on to that final playoff spot,” Ahearn said.
Missouri State fans will surely hope for the same, in what should be an easy switch from the Bears to the Grizzlies.