EDWARDSVILLE — Basketball has always been a favorite sport for Arcola's Blake Lindenmeyer, who was the high school manager for several years and could be seen shooting baskets before and after practices or games.
"It has always been a dream of mine to play college basketball, no matter what level," said Lindenmeyer, a 2017 Arcola (enrollment 224) graduate. "I am very thankful to be playing at the highest level."
Lindenmeyer made the men's basketball team at Division I Southern Illinois University Edwardsville this season after playing on a club team as a freshman.
"They had open tryouts, and I decided I didn't want to look back in 10 years and regret not trying out," said Lindenmeyer, a 6-0, 180-pound sophomore guard. "It was a little bit of a shot in the dark at first and I happened to make it."
In high school, Blake Lindenmeyer averaged 2.3 points per game as a junior on a team that had a plethora of seniors that went 24-4 under Mike Shafer. As a senior, Lindenmeyer averaged 18 points and 1.8 steals per game, earning first-team all-Little Okaw Valley Conference Northwest Division honors for the 11-17 Purple Riders. He was also on the JG-TC All-Area team. Lindenmeyer played under current Lake Land assistant Chad Graves his freshman and sophomore years.
"I think what we look for as a walk-on in Blake, particularly, is his ability to be a strong student — and that is super important not only for a walk-on, but for the team as well," said SIUE head coach Jon Harris. "Basketball-wise, he has a good skill set and plays hard. He is a high character kid. He has a firm handshake, good eye contact and I was impressed with how he carries himself more than anything."
Harris is a Marquette graduate, was formerly an assistant coach at California-Berkley under current Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin, and also played and assisted under Tom Crean when the Golden Eagles reached the Final Four in 2002-03. He is in his fourth season at SIUE, a school of 11,720 that is in the Ohio Valley Conference along with Eastern Illinois and 10 other schools. Their team is 5-11 overall and 1-3 in the conference currently.
Harris said they try to carry two or three walk-ons a season. Despite Lindenmeyer's high school numbers and being from a small Class 1A school, Harris saw a lot of good things from the tryouts in September.
"He is good shape, plays hard and can move his feet," said Harris. "I think he can do a lot of different things offensively and defensively. Just having that versatility in a kid that has that selfless mindset and brings it every day in terms of his approach and effort is what I think is very important."
Another important thing according to Harris is that Lindenmeyer is coming into the office and asking questions about schemes and other things.
Lindenmeyer, who hopes to play as long as he can at SIUE, said of the tryouts that they did some drills. It was a few days later that Lindenmeyer was called into Harris' office.
"He told me he wanted me to part of the team and that he liked what he saw, especially offensively," said Lindenmeyer. "It was surreal at first. I immediately called my parents and brothers right after the meeting. They are the real reason why I am where I am today. They have always been supportive, and my parents have been at every single game and even made the trip to Las Vegas (Dec. 22 and 23)."
Ball in the family
To say basketball has been a large part of Lindenmeyer's family would be an understatement.
His brother Nicholas, a 2010 Arcola graduate and 6-3 forward/center, was the JG-TC Player of the Year in the 2009-10 season, averaging 16.4 points and 10.1 rebounds as the Purple Riders went 17-11 and won a Class 1A regional championship.
His brother Brett, a 2012 Arcola graduate, was the JG-TC Player of the Year in the 2011-12 season as the two became the first brothers to earn player of the year in the then 30-year history of the award. Brett averaged 16.7 points for the 16-12 Class 1A regional champions.
"I grew up playing basketball and watching them play," said Blake Lindenmeyer. "In a way being a manager helped me, as I could see who they moved and what they ran in different situations. Probably since I was 8 years old I was out there playing and battling it out on the basketball court and in our backyard. They are the reason why I am the player I am today. They really pushed me to be my best. If I could beat them I could be anyone. They come to all my games as well and are very supportive of me."
Andy Lindenmeyer, a 1984 Arcola grad, and Julie Lindenmeyer are his parents.
"From day one they have always been supportive of me and all of my dreams," said Blake Lindenmeyer. "My dad has always helped me with my skills and my mentality towards the game. My mom has been on the side of wanting me to be a better person than I am a basketball player, but still very supportive. I definitely would not be where I am today without the support of my family."
Blake's uncle Jeff Lindenmeyer, a 1994 Arcola grad who was on the JG-TC All-Area team, was initially a walk-on at the University of Illinois before earning a scholarship.
"He has been very supportive of me as well," said Blake Lindenmeyer. "He told me to always keep my head up and keep working hard. He has been giving me a lot of advice to keep the right mindset going forward. Another reason why I am the player I am today is that in summers I played a lot of basketball with some of my good buddies, and they were always pushing me to be the best player I can be."
"When I first walked on to the team the first couple of weeks, it was a culture shock for me as far as I had never seen athletes like these guys," said Lindenmeyer. "In high school, of course, you don't have 6-7, 6-8, 6-10 tall guys. Those guys are huge. I had to shift my game to more defense and offensively, I am working on my footwork and outside shot. Because at 6-0, I am an undersized Division I athlete and need to use my 3-point shooting and quickness. For me, this year has been about learning more about the game and growing as a player. I have always been a team player. I always want to make the team better. That is my role this year. I try and push the guys as hard as I can. All of the guys on the team are so welcoming to me and it is a brotherhood, a family."
A birthday to remember
On Lindenmeyer's birthday, his parents, as well as Arcola friends Clayton Miller, Clayton Strader and Wyatt Fishel, saw SIUE take on Missouri S&T at the Vadalabene Center in Edwardsville.
The Cougars won 79-66.
"I didn't know if I would get in," said Lindenmeyer. "All of the guys on the team were saying, 'Let's get Blake in on his birthday.' Coach Harris looked down at me and said, 'Let's go.' I had a good amount of fans there. I tuned the crowd out and it was all business from there (played a minute). It was good to get my foot in the door and hopefully that and this season leads into next season. This is a growing year for me, and I am soaking up as much as I can from the upperclassmen."
Lindenmeyer is studying business entrepreneurship.
"I have never really been a procrastinator and I picked up on the time management quickly," said Lindenmeyer. "Once I made the team, it was a time commitment for sure. We have team lifting and practice and film. It is a big time commitment, which is something I love."
Advice for younger people in elementary or high school is, "For me, it was all about wanting it bad and maybe I wanted it more than some people. It is something I had instilled in me that pushed me to get where I am today. No matter what the circumstances, you can always reach your goals with hard work."