MEMPHIS, Tenn. — De Smet product Blake Ahearn's basketball journey has taken him a lot of places. Now, it has him helping to mold perhaps the most exciting young star in basketball.
Ahearn is an assistant coach for the Memphis Grizzlies, and works especially close with fourth-year guard Ja Morant.
If you've been on social media lately, you've probably seen some Ja Morant highlights.
The 22-year-old sensation has been one of the biggest stars in the league this season and helped Memphis to one of the best records in the NBA thanks to a franchise-record 10-game winning streak.
Ahearn is soaking it in with the high-flying Grizzlies this season, and talked with 5 On Your Side's Frank Cusumano about his team and helping teach their young star.
"The opportunity to work with Ja is an honor for me. I appreciate that (head coach) Taylor Jenkins puts trust in me to work with Ja on a day-to-day basis. It's a privilege," Ahearn said. "He's a great kid, works hard, student of the game... It'd be different if he didn't want to work or didn't want to put in the time. But he's always asking questions and always wanting to get better."
Morant is averaging career-highs in field goal percentage (.489), three-point percentage (.379), rebounds (5.7), steals(1.3), blocks (0.5) and points (24.9) this season. And if you ask Ahearn, it's all about Morant putting in the consistent hard work to be great.
"Every single day before we come in for practice we're working out, we stick to the same game plan before every game with our shooting routine and watching film every single time before the game. He had his daughter with him before one game and I wasn't even going to watch film with him. That was his time. There's times when you've got to learn there's more important things in life than basketball and let him kind of have his time. But he was like, 'No, this is our routine let's do it.' So he had his daughter on his lap and we watched film together with his daughter," Ahearn said. "So for me it's just the consistency and the discipline. The young man wants to be great and I'm glad I get to be a part of it and try not to mess it up."
Of course, Ahearn was no slouch himself on the court. After De Smet Ahearn went to Missouri State where he became the all-time free throw percentage leader in NCAA history.
After that, Ahearn had a few cups of coffee in the NBA as well as abroad before getting into coaching.
But coach Ahearn can still shoot the rock and puts his talent on display against Morant on a daily basis in a competitive shooting game with a fun prize for the winner.
"It's a simple shooting game and it's only ten shots, but the rule is whoever wins gets to pick the music. Well, we listen to his music while we work out and then whoever wins the shooting game gets to pick the music. And me, being a huge country music fan, I guarantee you he can sing Luke Combs, Luke Bryan... He knows all of them by now. It's always funny when the players walk in and hear the country music they knew who won," Ahearn said.
The young Grizzlies are looking to continue making noise in the NBA this season, with Morant leading the charge. Ahearn said he's grateful to play a role in the team, and Morant's breakout.
"There's nights I get a front-row seat for arguably the most exciting player in today's game. The thing that's the best for me is the relationship side of it. Everybody sees what he does on the court, but who he is as a person, and how down to earth he is and all the stuff behind the scenes that people don't get to see," Ahearn said. "For me to be a part of that and be a part of our young group that's doing things that most people didn't think we could even come close to is pretty incredible and I'm grateful to be a part of it."