Mr. Baseketball: Two-sport athlete Blake Hibbitts has history of athletic ability, success
A typical day for 8-year-old Blake Hibbitts often involved stepping off the Little League mound and quickly running to his mother’s car for a quick-change.
Sliding his cleats off and slipping his basketball shorts on, his next stop was AAU hoops practice.
“Growing up, I was pushed to be athletic,” Hibbitts said. “When I was little, I was somewhat advanced compared to other kids because I was involved in so many other sports.”
At one point, the Hudsonville sophomore played five sports at a time while he was in grade school. As a Chippewa, he narrowed his focus to two.
Now, Hibbitts is the only multiple-varsity sport student-athlete at CMU, playing baseball and basketball.
His family lives near Grand Valley State University, where Blake’s father, Greg, often schooled his children on basic basketball fundamentals at the public athletic complex.
Greg was a varsity basketball player at Ferris State University in the late 1980s, where he led the Bulldogs in blocked shots in 1988.
“My dad taught me everything about my shot,” Blake said. “Basketball was always big in my family. After a game, my dad is the first person and the last person I want to talk to.”
Greg said being athletic and pushing himself to give 100 percent in everything he does came “surprisingly naturally,” to his son.
“He was kind of born into it,” Greg said. “He was always committed to doing his best. I never had to twist his arm – not on the basketball court, not on the baseball field, not in the classroom.”
Blake said he really got serious about America’s pastime at age nine.
Originally, he started out playing tee-ball. He had a friend in grade school whose dad owned a baseball training facility. Soon after, Blake started playing travel ball, which worked out well for the dual-sport athlete.
Nearly 15 years later, Blake led Hudsonville High School on the mound to a 2012 Michigan High School Athletic Association baseball championship. He posted a perfect 10-0 record that season and finished with a stunning 1.35 career ERA in high school.
Earlier in his senior year, Blake averaged more than 17 points per game and shot more than 70 percent from the free-throw line on Hudsonville’s basketball team.
“He’s always had a great appreciation for the fundamentals of whatever sport it is he is playing,” Greg said. “That’s the reason he has been so successful. He’s always done things the right way.”
When CMU first approached Blake, he said he was enthralled by the proposition of being able to play the two sports he loves.
CMU basketball head coach Keno Davis said Blake’s discipline and understanding of balance was what made it possible to play more than one Division-I sport.
“Most coaches would wonder if that is too much,” Davis said, “but Blake is the kind of individual that erases that wonder. I always thought if anyone can handle it, he can.”
So far, the sophomore has managed to juggle both.
Blake plays a much larger role on Davis’ squad than the baseball team. Although CMU baseball coach Steve Jaksa redshirted the 6-foot-7 pitcher his freshman year, the 13-year skipper said Blake’s size is what's most valuable to the Chippewas pitching staff.
“He just keeps getting better,” Jaksa said. “He’s got an ideal frame. He’s long and lengthy. The ball really comes out of his hand smooth. Being able to play two sports was important to him, so that is where we are at.”
Blake is expected to pitch from the bullpen as a reliever in 2014 for the Chippewas.
Meanwhile, the forward averages nearly 10 points per game on the basketball team this season and has accounted for more than 30 percent of CMU’s 3-point field goals as of Feb. 17.
“If anything, Blake Hibbitts is confident,” Davis said. “He has a certain level of focus, which makes all of this possible. There is a delicate balance there. I think the best of his basketball career is ahead of him and I’m sure that’s the case on the baseball field as well.”
Both coaches respect what the sophomore is going through on a daily basis.
“It takes a great deal of personal discipline to make it here in just one sport,” Jaksa said. “He never really gets a break from competition. That’s not easy to do.”
While juggling games, practices for two sports and a college student’s social life, Blake also manages to keep his grades at a high level.
His 3.71 GPA is among the highest on both teams he belongs to.
“That’s just the type of person he is always trying to be,” Greg said. “As a parent, you just wish the best for your kid and we have been very fortunate. We are proud of him everyday.”
Blake said CMU is a perfect fit for his multifaceted talents.
“All the coaches here have been really understanding of my situation,” he said. “I used to go from baseball tournaments and drive straight to AAU basketball games. Same thing here. As soon as I get done with basketball, I’ll get into baseball.
“I’ve been doing this my whole life.”