Justin Blythe learned the importance of being a good teammate early in his high school career.
Blythe is a senior point guard on the Father Judge High School basketball team, and when he was a freshman, his senior teammate Tom Quarry always went out of his way to make sure Blythe was able to get to and from practice safely.
“He lived in the opposite direction, and he would drive, it would be like an hour and a half for him to get home, but he always drove me home or to Saturday practices when I needed a ride,” said Blythe, who lives in Olney. “He was like my best friend. And I was a younger guy, he didn’t have to do it.
“It taught me a lot. He was a great player and he made sure that I was good. It taught me a lot about being a good teammate and basketball player. It meant a lot to me.”
Blythe is no longer a newcomer on the team. He’s now one of the top guys and comes into his senior year as a three-year starter at point, and with that comes the expectation of being the guy who leads the team on and off the court.
Last year Blythe was the second-leading scorer on the Crusaders, just behind his teammate and fellow leader Nahseer Johnson.
The pair have been bonded since playing together in AAU when they were in eighth grade, but the relationship has gotten stronger every time they step on the court. It helped a lot.
“I love playing with Nahseer because I always know what he’s going to do and he always knows what I’m going to do,” Blythe said. “I know he’s going to give 100 percent, so I do the same. I know Nahseer is a guy who will go out there and die for me, and I’d do the same for him. We knew each other coming (into Judge), but now we have that bond from playing together for so long.”
Blythe has leaned on Johnson, but he’s also learned how to be a star himself. It wasn’t something that happened overnight.
He got the keys to the offense when he was a sophomore after playing a few minutes as a freshman, and he learned by doing.
“It was pretty hard, as tough as it was on the offensive end, it was even worse defensively,” Blythe said. “It’s tough in the Catholic League because there are so many great players, and they can make you look bad.
“I tried to learn quickly, but you get better by playing. I definitely had help. It wasn’t easy learning that way, but it definitely made me a better player. Coach (Sean Tait) helped me, but he didn’t go easy on me. He treated me like a senior the whole time.”
As Blythe got more comfortable, the Crusaders became a better basketball team. And after a slow start last year that saw Judge lose its first 10 games of the Catholic League schedule, the Crusaders rebounded to go 3-1 in their final four games. It wasn’t enough to get the Crusaders into the playoffs, but it certainly gave them confidence heading into this season.
Right now it’s unknown when the Catholic League will begin play. It’s tentatively scheduled for the start of next year, but that will depend on how the area makes out with coronavirus.
Whenever the games start, Blythe will be ready.
“It’s going to be hard again because we have a lot of younger guys, but they’re good players, and they’ll be playing with me, so I know what it’s like to get thrown right in when you’re young,” Blythe said. “I definitely think we showed some people what we can do at the end of last year. We started playing a lot better. If we can do that earlier this year, I think we can be pretty good. We just have to be ready.”
It will take every team a while to get acclimated once the season begins. The Crusaders haven’t had a lot of gym time together, but they have been working on their own, and when possible, they’ve worked out together.
“I had some time with Nahseer,” Blythe said. “We’ve met up a few times to play, but mostly we’ve all being doing it on our own because you can’t go anywhere. We all have to make sure we’re ready whenever we come back. We aren’t sure when everything will be, but we’ll be ready.”
Blythe also has other goals he wants to accomplish this year.
A strong student, Blythe hopes to find a school where he can continue his basketball career, and get a degree in either business or engineering.
“I have engineering now, and I think it’s something that I’d like to do,” Blythe said. “I like it because it’s a lot like basketball. You have to make decisions, and whatever you do will impact everything else. And I like business, too. I’m pretty good at math, and I think I would enjoy it. I like traveling, it would be fun to do that for business.”
The only thing left is to get down to the business of basketball.
“We’ll be ready,” Blythe said. “It’s been hard. I don’t like not playing. I don’t like going to school (remotely). I just want to get back to normal. I think this could be a good year.”