“My best friend. My mentor. My everything. We have been through it all together.” These are the words that R.J. Blakney uses when anyone asks him about his mother. ”. What is it that has created this incredible relationship between R.J. and his mom? For that, we need to go way back to when R.J. was born and growing up in West Baltimore.

Dwuana “Dafne” Lee-Blakney grew up in Baltimore and played basketball at Walbrook Senior High School. After a prolific career at Walbrook, she went on to play for the University of Maryland. She would go on to have a very successful career with the Terrapins that included a Final Four Appearance. After playing overseas, she would go on to start a coaching career. In that time period, something else happened. R.J. was born. Immediately, a bond was born.

R.J. only got to see his mom play a handful of times. He remembers going and seeing her play with his grandma. Those early memories helped form an early foundation for his love of basketball. However, he didn’t immediately become a basketball star like his mother.

R.J. actually found his first love with the game of football. To this day, he credits the game for helping him gain toughness and grit. Those attributes are essential to how he plays basketball. However, while it was football at the start, it wasn’t long before he found himself on the basketball court. To no one’s surprise, it was his mother who helped him come back to the game.

Dafne and R.J. would work together on his game. She was the one who really helped him get going in the sport he would eventually shine in. However, that did not mean she took it easy on him. R.J. remembers vividly some of the 1-on-1 games. He said “She would beat me. And it was a really humbling experience.”

Dafne would consistently rely on her go-to move, the step back, to beat R.J. As R.J. looks back on these pick-up games, he laughs about it. These early matchups were where R.J. learned how to compete. How to work through adversity on the court. However, what he didn’t realize was it was also where his relationship with his mom would grow to new levels.

As R.J. continued to grow up and go through middle school, Dafne was always there. She would go to games, tournaments, and everything else with him. She also instilled values in him that helped shape him into the player he was going into high school. What kind of player is that? As R.J. puts it, “I love playing defense. It comes from within yourself. You can’t teach competitiveness or willpower. That comes from within you.” As R.J. entered high school, he was ready to compete.

R.J. played high school basketball at St. Maria Goretti Catholic High School in Maryland. As he looks back on his time there, one thing stood out. His mom was there. Every step of the way. She was with him in the gym. She was with him on the road. She was there to support him every single step of the way. At one point after a game during his ninth grade year, he remembers telling him mom after a game, “I can do this. No doubt. No doubts in my mind.”

High school progressed and, after some challenges, R.J. had a decision to make. Do I go to prep school or not? When he talked to his mom, she told him to “stay on the process. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Those simple words helped R.J. decide to go onto prep school in Connecticut at The Loomis Chaffee School. This decision proved to be monumental for R.J. The school allowed him to grow, both on and off the court, while also getting another chance to show out for college coaches. After one particular open gym, he remembers one coach in particular; Flyer assistant coach Ricardo Greer.

Coach Greer loved what he saw. He loved it so much that he was able to convince Head Coach Anthony Grant to come up and see him. After talking with R.J., they offered him a scholarship. R.J. was excited as he told his mom about what he was feeling and about the University of Dayton. They wanted to take a visit to really experience it before making any final decisions. So, Dafne and R.J. made the trek to Dayton, Ohio to check out campus. It was everything that R.J. expected and more. Everything seemed to be trending in the right direction for R.J. to become a Flyer. But, before he made the decision, he had one person to consult; his mom.

“I remember she wanted it to be 100% my decision. So, I talked to her for two to three hours about it and what I was thinking. At the end, she gave her blessing. She really just wanted to make sure I was asking the right questions. She always told me that I will know the feeling.”

After R.J. received that blessing from his number one supporter/mentor/friend, he told the coaches, “I’m ready to be a Flyer.” It wasn’t until after he committed that his mother told him that he definitely made the right choice. It is true what they always say, your mother really does always know what’s best.

As R.J. begins his next chapter at Dayton, there is one thing that is for certain. No matter what the future holds, he is always going to have his mom right by his side. She will be there to support him through the good, the bad, and everything in between. Just like she always has.

The Flight is a weekly series that highlights the incredible stories of our student athletes on our Men's and Women's Basketball teams. Be on the lookout for new stories every Thursday and Friday throughout the summer.

Story and Graphics by: Ryan Phillips, Marketing and Digital Strategy Coordinator Dayton Flyer Athletics