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BLAS BALLING AND SCORING FOR GUAM

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By Patrick Lujan

Guam’s Joe Blas makes the easy layup over multiple Andersen Bombers defenders during the March Madness Tournament this year. (photo by Errol Alegre Jr.)

Guam’s men’s national basketball team has been an elite hoops program in the Pacific for decades. The dominance was on display last month with an easy gold medal in the Micronesian Basketball Tournament held on Guam, beating its opponents by an average of 35 points.

In a talent-filled lineup that includes the likes of Willie Stinnett, Vince Estella and Seve Susuico, the defensive-minded Guam squad usually goes to small forward Joe Blas to put points on the board.

Leading the offensive barrage for Team Guam was the 23-year-old Blas, who averaged a tournament-high 26 points per game.

“Everyone tells me to look to score,” Blas said.

“I tell him all the time ‘your job is to score, go and do what you do best’,” said long-time National player Jin Han, who was inactive for the Marianas Tournament due to an injury. “He’s definitely a true scorer. He looks to attack the basket and he wants the ball. Every team needs a guy like that.”

Scorer’s Mentality

Blas always had it. The ability to put the ball in the basket – since his playground pickup games when he was 10 and no one else could do it like he could.

“Everybody understands their role on the (national) team, and that’s what makes us really strong. Joe is a different type,” Han said. “When a basket is needed, he wants the ball…that’s not a bad thing, he wants the ball in his hand. It makes the game a lot easier for a lot of us.”

But it was his first game as a senior at GW in 2005 when he scored 46 points. “It came out of no where because it was just the first game of the season. That’s when I really blew up.

“I was never a good shooter, but I would always drive. In my senior year, it was pretty much just me, so I knew I had to score or there was no way my team was going to win. Ever since then, I’ve always needed the ball in my hands.”

As a First Team All-Island selectee in 2005-06, the Mongmong resident went on represent Guam in countless international tournaments, to include a gold medal performance in the 1996 Micronesian Games, but none stings more than the silver medal finish in the 2011 Pacific Games against host nation New Caledonia.

Blas led Guam to the gold medal during September’s Micronesian Basketball Tournament averaging 26 ppg. (photo by Jesse Castro)

‘Could not put the ball in the basket’

The men’s team always makes the gold medal game but hasn’t tasted gold since 1979. Another opportunity slipped away yet again last year in front of a raucous home crowd in Noumea.

“It hurts not to bring it home, but we needed just a little more in that last game,” Blas said. “Three of our starters were combined 2-for-36. We could not put the ball in the basket that game and we lost by only five points (62-57). Our defense was keeping us in the game the whole time, but we couldn’t put it in the bucket that night. We had the team to do it, but we couldn’t do it. It’s bitter, but I’ve got other opportunities to get it. I’m gonna be back (in the Pacific Games) again.

“(New Caledonia) had the same squad since 2009 and they were big guys – average size of 6-3, 6-4. They had everything going for them that night. They didn’t dominate us. We just fell short that last game.”

As still one of the youngest players on the national team and already the go-to guy on offense, Blas wants the program to take it to the next level .

“If we prepare a little bit more, we should be the best team in this area.”

Blas thinks that an earlier start to preparation and some off-island stiff competition should be adequate going into the 2015 Games in Papua New Guinea.

“Before the Games, we only had PABL and that was like once every two weeks or so.  We need to keep it coming so we get used to it, we should be alright.”

As for his all-around game, Blas is improving on his outside shooting and  looks to find open teammates when the defense is drawn in.

“Now I’m getting smarter, so I’m not always looking to score and I can break down the defense and find other people.”

Cutting Hair

Blas had turned his hobby of cutting hair into his profession. (photo by Errol Alegre, Jr.)

An interesting fact about one of Guam’s finest ballers is that he’s chosen a hobby to become his career.

“I used to always cut my own hair in high school,” Blas said.

It wasn’t until 2010 when he was in Florida and college was too expensive when he decided to go to barber school.

“I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to go to school for four years.”

Blas has one of many of his basketball trophies right on his work station at Salon Fusion in the Agana Shopping Center. As the scoring centerpiece of Guam’s national team, of course he gets requests from teammates and others for free haircuts – but don’t count on it.

“My boss doesn’t like that.”

Joe on…

Brother Carmen Blas, GW ’95, former Guam National player

“I’ve never really seen Carmen play. They say that Carmen was a better outside shooter, but I’m a better scorer and defender.”

Brother Rashaun Blas, GW ’13, current high school star

“He doesn’t have the same mentality as I do. He can be good, but he’s not really aggressive. He’s a lefty so that makes it harder.”

Notes: Gold medal, 2006 Micro Games (Saipan); 2006 Oceania Youth Tournament 2006, New Zealand (only Guam player to make all-star team); 2007 made 19-under FIBA Oceania All-Star team in Australia; 2007 Micronesian Youth Tournament MVP; 2009 Oceania Men’s Tournament (Saipan) All-Star; 2011 Pacific Games (silver); 2012 Micronesian Basketball Tournament led 26 ppg; currently leads Golden Hoops Classic league with 28.3 ppg.

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