Clemson’s Blossomgame breaks through after being plagued with injuries

Jaron Blossomgame and Clemson travel to Miami on Saturday to play the Hurricanes. Blossomgame is averaging 17.3 points per game this season. (File/AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

CLEMSON — Jaron Blossomgame will stay with the hot hand — er, hot foot — when he squeezes into his neon purple and green Nike shoes Tuesday night.

When Clemson hosts No. 4 Virginia at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in this wacky season in which the Tigers have shown they can beat anybody and lose to anybody, the one guarantee is that Blossomgame will be wearing the appropriate pair of shoes for a big game.

“Honestly, the way I do it, if I play well in a pair of shoes, I’ll continue to wear those until I don’t play well,” said Blossomgame, who counts off five different pairs of game-ready shoes in his closet.

His two prior 30-point games this season — Feb. 8 vs. Notre Dame and Feb. 20 at N.C. State, both Clemson losses — were played in a pair of Kevin Durant-inspired high-tops, size 13 to fit snugly around Blossomgame’s size 14 feet.

“If I wear a pair of socks and play well, I’ll wear those socks the next game,” Blossomgame said with a grin. “Very superstitious.”

Superstitious, and maybe a little OCD. Blossomgame never deters from his pregame ritual.

“My gameday routine is very precise,” Blossomgame said. “I have to do the same thing before every game, home and away, to get my mind right.

“I see myself playing well in my head, and then go out and play.”

The 6-7, 220-pound power forward with impeccable touch has done that with regularity, averaging 18.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game for the Tigers (16-12, 9-7 ACC).

Blossomgame is at peace with basketball, which wasn’t so easy four years ago when his athletic future was thrust into doubt with a horrifying injury.

In April 2012, Blossomgame had polished off a fine high school career at Chattahoochee High School in the northeast suburbs of Atlanta when he was going through some drills for his AAU coach. The prior week, Blossomgame had noticed minor pain in his left shin, but not enough to keep him off the court.

The workout was nearly over when Blossomgame landed awkwardly after a dunk. The pain got his attention, but he shook it off and returned to half-court for another turn. This time, as he tried to jump, he never left the floor.

“I heard a loud pop and a cracking sound. In my mind, it sounded like somebody threw a ball at me and hit my leg,” Blossomgame remembered. “But I had no control over it. I fell on my side in shock and picked my leg up.

“Everything from my knee to my shin was just hanging out. The bone had punctured through the skin.”

A shattered tibia, one that would require emergency surgery that night to fasten a permanent steel rod to support his left leg. On the ambulance ride, Blossomgame called his recruiter, then-Clemson assistant Earl Grant, to break the bad news.

“I was sitting there, kind of shocked,” Blossomgame said. “My mind was on one thing — will I get to play at Clemson? Will I ever play again? I love basketball so much, but is it over after a freak injury like that?”

It took half a year before Blossomgame could put any pressure on his left foot.

Blossomgame took a redshirt his first year in college — one that was a blessing in disguise to strengthen his upper body and basketball acumen — and finally began practicing with the Tigers in January 2013. But his leg still didn’t feel right. It took a freak incident in a summer workout to turn things around. Blossomgame and then-teammate K.J. McDaniels were diving for a ball when McDaniels landed hard on Blossomgame’s leg. The pain was intense, and team doctors decided something needed to be done.

“The doctor said he wanted to take bone marrow from my hip and place it on the site where the initial break was,” Blossomgame said. “That would speed the healing process.”

Blossomgame recovered to start 30 games as a freshman, averaging 23.4 minutes, 4.9 points and five rebounds. Clemson eventually made the NIT semifinals in New York City, but Blossomgame missed that because of another leg injury.

With a few minutes left in the Tigers’ NIT opener vs. Georgia State, Blossomgame fractured his left leg about one inch below the initial break.

“I was just very upset. I worked so hard to come back, and here it is again,” Blossomgame said. “I wondered if I would ever get past this injury, and I’m sure a lot of people wondered the same thing. I didn’t want my coaches and teammates to lose confidence in me, and think I’m going to be one of those guys who gets hurt and falls off the map.”

Fueled by that notion, Blossomgame was finally healthy the summer before his sophomore year. He put up 13.1 points a game in 2014-15, became head coach Brad Brownell’s first leading scorer to return to school in six years and now ranks third in the ACC in scoring.

“He’s always had a high level of confidence in himself, and that’s one of the reasons he’s been able to overcome the injuries as well as he has,” Brownell said. “I don’t think he ever doubted for a second he could get himself back.

“He’s put in the time to improve his shooting. Because of that, now people have to guard him farther up the court and it helps his driving. I’m pleased he’s being rewarded for all his hard work.”

Brownell has long lauded Blossomgame’s work ethic — the old shows up early, stays late platitude — to a point where Blossomgame had to exercise patience during rehabbing injuries.

“He is the kind of guy you’ve got to get him to rest,” said Brownell of Blossomgame, whose 34.1 minutes per game rank seventh in the ACC (second among forwards). “You have to convince him instead of knocking down the wall every time, you can walk around it sometimes.

“He is a go-getter. He’ll keep pushing and pushing.”

Blossomgame has produced at least 20 points in eight of his last 11 games. He’s deferring questions about whether he’ll stay in school or turn pro for now, but the fourth-year collegian is one summer course away from graduating and only wants to declare for the draft if he figures himself a likely first-round prospect.

From a litany of knee injuries to finding shoes fit for 30-point outbursts, few would blame Blossomgame for feeling ready for the NBA.

“I think this is just who I am now,” Blossomgame said. “I guess early on, you could say it was a zone. But I’ve been consistent the whole year doing this. This is what you can expect from me from now on.”