With Ralph Blalock, what you see is pretty much all you get, since you rarely will hear a peep out of him.
Towson State's basketball team gets plenty from Blalock. Midway through his breakthrough sophomore season, all the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder has done is play three positions, emerge as the scoring threat the Tigers figured he could become and help Towson State move into position to win its second regular-season Big South Conference title.
And Blalock is the last person who would talk about it.
"Ralph is the kind of kid who is so soft-spoken that he becomes unsung. Fortunately, he plays with more fire than he talks," Towson State coach Terry Truax said.
"He sometimes looks like he's not playing with great intensity, but I seldom question his effort. Not only does he have an economy with words, he doesn't waste any energy."
Assistant coach Adrian Dantley is more lavish in his praise. "Ralph is a great guy. He comes to practice and you know what you're going to get from him," Dantley said. "He'll sacrifice a lot for the team. I always talk to him about being aggressive. Sometimes, he goes to sleep out there."
Take Wednesday night's performance against UMBC, for example. In the first half, Blalock seemed detached from the offense, taking five shots and producing nearly as many turnovers (three) as points (four).
In the second half, the other Blalock showed up, the guy who has carried Towson State often this winter. By the time he was through hitting outside shots and exploding to the basket for layups and dunks, Blalock had a game-high 24 points, and the Tigers had doused UMBC's upset bid with an 89-78 victory.
His 20-point resurgence marked the best half of his college career, although Blalock didn't seem too impressed. Of course, that's not too surprising for Blalock.
Off the court, coaches and teammates describe him as shy, self-effacing and businesslike. On court, his impassive expression sometimes makes him look apathetic.
"I think I'm a player that needs improvement. I'm always looking to better myself," Blalock said in a pitch barely above a whisper. "I have a lot of confidence in my game, but I need to be more aggressive to be the best player I can possibly be."
How close is Blalock to that goal? Hard to tell. But, without an ever-improving Blalock this year, Towson State (13-7, 8-2) probably would not be playing Liberty tonight as the first-place team in the Big South.
Blalock, who has played every backcourt position in the Tigers' three-guard alignment, is second on the team in scoring (16.3). He leads in shooting percentage (55.4), three-pointers (20), free throws (63), assists (2.6) and steals (1.8).
And since turning over point-guard duty to Quintin Moody last month, Blalock has stepped up his offensive production. In nine games against the Big South as a third guard, he has led the Tigers in scoring five times while averaging 15.9 points. He has scored in double figures in his past seven games.
"Coach Dantley said I was passing up too many shots. He told me I was one of the best shooters on the team, and that I should take more shots," said Blalock, thinking back to December, when he put together a five-game stretch in which he averaged 21.0 points. "It comes down to being confident with my shot and utilizing my three-point shooting ability."
It also comes down to Blalock having the tools to become a chess piece in the Tigers' scheme. Blessed with a stocky body resembling a strong safety and soft hands that helped him become a fine shortstop for his high school baseball team, Blalock handles the ball adequately. He also has the leaping ability to help the Tigers on the boards, where he's averaging 5.0 rebounds since moving to third guard. He's always had a fine jump shot.
Blalock has come a long way since his freshman year, when he spent the season spelling point guard Devin Boyd and shooting guard Scooter Alexander. After a great high school career at Sanford Academy (Del.) -- which he started by averaging 45.0 points as a freshman on the JV and ended by being crowned Delaware Player of the Year for leading Sanford to its second straight state title -- Blalock was forced to adjust to life on the bench.
"Last year was a tough situation behind Devin [who graduated] and Scooter," he said. "I was skeptical about my skills. I was getting limited time and wondering where the minutes were going to come from."
Blalock's versatility and maturity have laid those worries to rest. He has started all but two games, and is averaging 31 minutes.
"I thought Ralph had the tools to be a great player last year," Alexander said. "I kept telling him to keep his head up, keep working and he'll get his opportunity. Now, he's producing."