By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director
SAND ROCK – It wouldn’t be a stretch to call Sand Rock senior Kaden Justice a trailblazer for the Wildcat basketball program. Last season, he averaged 16.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists for the Wildcats (22-11), helping the school make its first Class 2A Final Four appearance since 2011.
Justice will continue to be a blazer, only of a different color in college. The 6-foot-6 guard signed with the Division III Belhaven Blazers of Jackson, Miss., on Monday afternoon in the Sand Rock gym. Justice will attend the same school that his uncle and Wildcat assistant coach Kenny Beck did.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Justice said. “I’m very excited to get to work with Coach (Josh) Brooks and Coach (John) Works. I’m very excited about what they’re putting together and I’m looking forward to another successful season there.”
Sand Rock head coach John Blackwell said it’s very rewarding for him to see Justice get the opportunity to play at the next level.
“Coach Beck and I have watched him over the years, and we know how many times his family didn’t go on vacation during the summer because he was playing travel ball,” Blackwell said. “He didn’t go out on Saturday nights because he was in the gym shooting when everybody else was out. All those sacrifices he made its rewarding to see all those sacrifices come true. They did today. It’s hard to go to the next level and play, but he’s worked hard for it.”
Justice thanked his mother Heather Blackburn and his grandparents for the sacrifices they made to help him achieve his dream.
“They’ve stopped what they’re doing a lot of times throughout the past 10 years to make sure I have the money to do something for basketball just to get better and the transportation to get there no matter where it was throughout the country. They’ve traveled everywhere with me,” he said.
Justice will be joining a Blazer program with some familiar faces he’s played with and against in high school and travel ball, including Hokes Bluff guard Jordan Presley and Helena power forward Owen Davis.
“Jordan is who I’ll be rooming with,” Justice said. I’ve got a couple of friends from Gulf Shores there and Owen Davis from Helena. We’ve got a bunch of guys coming in that I know, so I’m not going to be seeing that many new faces. I already know some of the guys on the team. I’m just ready to get to work with them.”
Blackwell feels Justice will fit in well with the Blazers’ system.
“His style of play, what he wants to do and type of kid he’s recruiting is Kaden Justice,” Blackwell said. “He’s gotten several players out of the mid to North Alabama area who Kaden has played travel ball with, so it’s not like he’s going to Belhaven and not knowing anybody. The style of play this coach is going to do is going to fit him well.”
Justice’s style of play is somewhat unusual for someone who’s 6-6. He can play the inside if needed, but he’s equally effective as a shooter from outside the paint.
“Most people his height are playing in the post because they don’t develop their dribbling and don’t develop their shooting, but he’s developed those things,” Blackwell said. “He was able to play a three-guard for us and that’s what got him to the next level. He did that starting at a young age. It helped us at Sand Rock having him on the wing as a guard. That created a lot of mismatches over the last several years, but it’s also allowed him to go play at the next level on scholarship.”
Being versatile is what Justice calls “the favorite part of my game.”
“I love being able to play where I’m needed to play and do whatever I’m needed to do,” he said. “I think Coach (Josh) Brooks and Coach (John) Works see that. That gets them really fired up about me and that just makes me even more fired up about Belhaven. That was a difference maker deciding where I wanted to continue my career.”
Blackwell said what Justice has been able to accomplish at Sand Rock has been remarkable.
“I tend to be a serious-type person who doesn’t show a lot of emotion. Some of our players are the same way, but at the same time, we need to be loosened up a little bit and relax and realize we don’t have to be so serious. Kaden was able to do that for us. He kept us all loose and relaxed. There were a lot of games where we needed that. We needed somebody to kind of help us stay relaxed.
“There’s a difference in leaving memories and leaving legacies. If you’re a playing coming through high school in a sport, people remember you for a year or two, but when you leave a legacy, that means that kid in first grade, second grade, third grade, when they’re seniors they’re still wanting to play like Kaden Justice played. They want to be that player they saw 10 or 11 years ago. That’s what Kaden has done. He hasn’t just left some memories at Sand Rock. He’s left a legacy. This whole senior class has done that.”