NBA could be next for Clemson star who was ‘Kevin Ware before Kevin Ware’

CHICAGO — Four years ago, after finishing his highly decorated high school career, Jaron Blossomgame was finishing up a workout in Georgia before enrolling at Clemson. The start of the day was just like any other, as the four-star recruit and future Tiger was just working on improving before getting to Clemson a few months later.

As the workout ended, Blossomgame went up for a dunk and landed awkwardly, and immediately knew something was wrong. The 6-foot-7 forward realized quickly his leg was broken, but it wasn’t until he looked down that he realized the severity of the injury.

“I looked down, and held my leg up, and it was just dead,” Blossomgame told CBS Sports. “It looked dead.”

Blossomgame’s leg, simply put, was shattered. He suffered a compound fracture of the tibia, and was laying on the ground with his shin bone quite literally sticking out of his leg.

“I was Kevin Ware before Kevin Ware,” Blossomgame said.

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Given the backdrop of that injury and his previous three years at Clemson, it’s fairly remarkable that Blossomgame was in a position to go to the NBA Draft Combine last week in Chicago. He went from laying on the ground, asking his coach “am I going to be able to play basketball again?” to strutting his stuff in front of NBA executives in an attempt to convince them he was a player worth investing a draft pick in.

It took the Alpharetta, Georgia native a full year to return from his leg injury, and even further surgery to repair the break after it didn’t heal as cleanly as expected. During his first season at Clemson — which he ended up redshirting — Blossomgame tried to help his team but just wasn’t able to as the leg struggled to heal properly.

“It was a tough process, more mentally than physically,” Blossomgame said. “I was a high recruit, and not being able to help my team my freshman year was very hard for me. I came in, I practiced a little bit, but I couldn’t really do anything. It was hard. Some days I’d feel okay and be able to get out on the court, then other days I wouldn’t feel all right. So it was very frustrating mentally.”

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Jaron Blossomgame’s scar from where his tibia came through his leg.
Sam Vecenie/CBS Sports

In the end, he had to have a somewhat unusual procedure done to help fix his leg.

“It was a non-union, which means the bone didn’t fully heal in the front,” Blossomgame said. “So they had to do a bone graft. They took a bone from my pelvis, and placed it at the site of the break, and it healed in about three months, at which point I was back out on the court playing.”

Since he’s gotten back out on the court though, it’s been a steady improvement every season under coach Brad Brownell. He’s played significant minutes every season, but his role and production has increased at every turn. In his freshman year, he only averaged 4.9 points despite playing over 25 minutes. Then, in his sophomore year, he upped that production to 13.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game — and in the process became the Tigers’ most valuable player.

However, in his junior year he went from solid player in a good league to being named to the All-ACC first team. Blossomgame averaged 18.7 points and 6.7 rebounds to pair with 1.5 assists and 1.3 blocks this season. He also doubled his 3-point shot output and hit 44 percent of them. Instead of just letting his athleticism — which, as you’ll see soon, hasn’t disappeared due to the leg injury — take hold, Clemson’s combo forward has rounded out his game skill-wise, particularly with his jump-shooting.

“The main thing I’ve really developed over the years is my shooting ability,” Blossomgame said. “I shot 20 percent my freshman year, 28 percent my sophomore year, then this past year I just worked on shooting and really put an emphasis on it because I always thought I was a better shooter than 20 percent. Then last year during the season, I think my shot selection was a lot better than in previous years.”

Now, because of that development, he has a choice to make. Blossomgame attended the combine as one of 16 players who were testing their stock under the NBA Draft’s new rules that allow players to decide to return to school if they don’t like the feedback they get from NBA executives. And truly, among that group Blossomgame was one of the standouts. He measured well at 6-7 with a 6-10 wingspan, then put up an excellent vertical leap measurement of 41 inches — clearly portraying that he is no worse for the wear due to the injury athletically. Then in the 5-on-5 setting, Blossomgame scored in double-figures each game, rebounded well, hit 3-pointers, and got to the foul line. Overall, he looked to be one of the best players out there.

That means he has a rather complicated decision coming up. Blossomgame said that if he gets feedback that he’s somewhere in the No. 25 to 40 range, he’ll probably keep his name in the draft, and if he gets feedback that he’s a late second round pick he’ll probably return to Clemson. Speaking with people around the league, his stock seems to be somewhere in that middle range. Not quite guaranteed to be a top-40 pick, but could easily slot into that range after workouts. Or, he could slip to the end of the second round. The group from No. 25 to No. 60 is so fluid at this juncture that it’s almost going to be impossible for him to get a foolproof read of his stock at this stage.

Whether he returns to school or not is beside the point though. For Blossomgame to even be here given where he was four years ago is incredible. Beyond the toughness that he said it took earlier, there was another lesson for him in the process on the road to recovery.

“I think the main thing in that whole process I learned was patience,” Blossomgame said. “I need to be patient with myself, patient with my body, and listen to what my body is telling me. I always believed in myself, I always believed I would come back 100 percent. People would doubt me sometimes, but I always said that I would come back better than I was before.”

Indeed, Blossomgame has returned better than before. So much better, in fact, that he’s now on the road to realizing an NBA dream that nearly was vanquished four years ago.

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Jaron Blossomgame might work his way into the first round of the draft after his performance at the combine.
Getty Images

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