Mark Story: Twins with basketball bloodline set to sign with UK football

Blaylock twins 'hidden gems,' says high school coach

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJanuary 31, 2012 

When you bear the last name of a father who played 13 years in the NBA, you are met with certain expectations.

People just assume that Daron and Zack Blaylock, the twin sons of former NBA All-Star and Oklahoma University star guard Mookie Blaylock, should be basketball players.

One slight problem.

Says Daron: "We just weren't that good at basketball."

The good news for the Blaylock twins — and the University of Kentucky — is that they have found another sports niche.

On Wednesday, the first day in which high school football players can sign binding national letters of intent with the colleges of their choice, the Blaylock twins from Marietta, Ga., are expected to be among the headliners of Joker Phillips' third recruiting class as UK head coach.

Zack, a 5-foot-11, 183-pound safety, saw his college stock blow up after a senior season in which he intercepted a whopping 11 passes — returning five for touchdowns — while leading the Walton Raiders to a 14-1 record and a state runner-up finish in the Georgia Class AAAAA playoffs.

Suddenly, schools such as Clemson, Auburn and Tennessee had eyes for Zack, the 34th-best safety prospect in the country according to Rivals.com.

Daron, a 6-1, 215-pound strong safety, had 95 tackles, including six for loss, for Walton. The older of the two Blaylock twins by 12 minutes, Daron was recruited by UK to fill one of the "hybrid positions" — half linebacker, half safety — in the scheme of Kentucky defensive coordinator Rick Minter.

"They are gems, hidden gems," says Walton Coach Rocky Hidalgo. "They would have both gotten a lot more (recruiting) attention if they hadn't been so loyal to Kentucky."

(A third player expected to sign with UK, cornerback Shawn Blaylock of Stone Mountain, Ga., is no relation to the twins.)

The twins come by their athletic genes from both sides of their family. Their dad, of course, was a star for Billy Tubbs on the Oklahoma team that was upset in the 1988 NCAA Tournament finals by Danny Manning and Kansas. Mookie Blaylock went on to average 13.5 points and 6.7 assists in 13 NBA seasons, making the 1994 All-Star Game.

While at Oklahoma, Mookie met and eventually married Janelle Karas, an all-conference volleyball player for the Sooners. The twins are the oldest of the three boys the couple had before they divorced.

Now, Daron and Zack have a cordial relationship with Mookie, but live with their mom and step-dad, John Woods.

"I married their mom when they were nine years old," Woods says. "I can tell you, they are two of the most humble kids you'll ever meet. Zackary is a little quieter. Daron can talk a little bit more. But they are both well-behaved, great kids. Their mom had done a great job with them before I ever came along."

At Walton, it is commonly accepted that if you see one of the twins, you'll soon see the other. "They're always together," Hidalgo says. "They've got similar personalities and just seem to like doing things together."

Among the twins' shared passions is snowboarding. "We've been snowboarding since we were 8," Zack says. "Our mom is from Colorado. We go up there to visit our family. They ski and snowboard the whole time."

It appears UK's Phillips is putting the kibosh on the twins' fun in the snow. "They didn't really say we can't, they just said we prefer you not," Zack says of the snowboarding. "They don't want us getting hurt that way."

In their high school years, Daron and Zack have become hard-core fishermen.

"We always fished when we were little, just with our grandparents and family," Daron says. "Then, in high school, some of our friends were really into it and we got into it that much more."

Zack reports that his biggest catch was "a good-sized carp." Daron, however, says he is the better fisherman "hands down. I caught a 6-foot shark off a boat. ... It was jumping the whole time I reeled it in. But I got it. Then I let it go. The rule was, I had to let it go."

The twins get along so well, both independently report that their last fight with each other came as middle schoolers when they had a dispute over who would get to eat the last sandwich during a meal.

When it became apparent that both were going to receive Division I football scholarship offers, they knew almost without thinking that they wanted to go to school together.

Says Daron: "We talked about not going with each other, but most likely we were. We sort of knew we were."

Says Zack: "We were going together. Always. We've been together forever."

Illinois, Cincinnati, Wake Forest, Duke, Mississippi and Louisville were among the schools talking about signing both Blaylocks.

Veteran assistant Greg Nord put in Kentucky's recruiting pitch.

"We had gone to, like, a bunch of different schools," says Zack. "Then one day we got a call from Coach Nord. He was like, 'Are you guys still interested?' We ended up going up to Kentucky for a camp. We ended up loving it."

Last June 5th, the Blaylock twins pledged their word to Kentucky.

Says Daron: "Of all the places we went to and visited and met all the coaches, Kentucky, the coaches, the whole place felt like family and felt like we could fit in."

(Interestingly, Mookie Blaylock's final game as a college basketball player came in Rupp Arena, an Oklahoma loss to Virginia in the 1989 NCAA Tournament round of 16).

Even though schools with more impressive football pedigrees have inquired since June, the twins haven't wavered on UK.

"After I was committed, I was never tempted to go to another school," Zack says.

On Wednesday morning at 7 a.m., the twins are scheduled to be at Chastain Park in suburban Atlanta, the place where they began playing organized football as little boys. There they will sign college scholarships papers to play for Kentucky.

The football program at a "basketball school" stands to benefit because the sons of a famous basketball player turned out to be far better at football.

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