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Doing the hard yards

“I’ve always believed that if you put in the work, the results will come.” – Michael Jordan Melbourne United swingman Todd Blanchfield is reaping the rewards of a dedicated winter of training, leading his team to a pair of much-needed victories this past weekend. Blanchfield scored a team-high 17 points on Friday night in Adelaide and was straight fire two days later in Melbourne, shooting United to a big win over Illawarra. His game-high 27 points came on the back of a spectacular shooting display that saw him connect on eight of his nine three-point field goal attempts. “Todd Blanchfield, that was outstanding. That was just incredible shooting tonight,” Illawarra Coach Rob Beveridge said postgame. “Some of those shots that Todd made were just incredible. That was just high quality.” While it surprised many, it was the type of performance those close to Blanchfield have seen coming, given the work he put in over the offseason. On the track, in the gym, on the court… Blanchfield ground out the winter like few others. And with all of that hard work in the books, he has emerged in the best shape of his career; fit, strong, fast and ready to fire. The result was a 14-point third quarter on Sunday that was as good as you’ll see. Finding his sweet-spot in the corner, Blanchfield capitalised on the penetrating play of Cedric Jackson and Chris Goulding to splash triple after triple without missing. He was absolutely unconscious, catching and firing with the confidence of a man with a sizzling hot hand. And when the dust cleared halfway through the term, his sharp-shooting had turned a one point half-time advantage into a virtually unassailable sixteen point lead. “We’ve got guys on the floor like Chris, Dave (Andersen) and Cedric who just draw so much attention. It’s just such a tough cover for the other team,” Blanchfield explained postgame. “When I’m fortunate enough to be on the end of that ball reversal and sitting in that corner… it’s just such a luxury to be able to get that wide open shot.” Humble as always, but while the open looks may have helped him catch fire, a couple of the heat checks were well and truly contested. In fact, Blanchfield’s efficient shooting night brought back memories of one of the greatest shooting performances in NBL history. The night when fellow United player David Barlow scored 37 points on 14-14 shooting (including 8-8 from downtown) for the Tigers against the New Zealand Breakers in 2007. “I was thinking about that, for sure,” Barlow told NBL Media postgame. “Todd’s release was so fast, he didn’t even look like he was going to miss. When I had that game I had a bit more space than he had, to be honest.” “I’m really happy for him. Big time,” Barlow added. “He’s a good guy, a hard worker and he deserves to have games like this.” A massive 75 per cent of all Blanchfield’s shots so far this season have been three-pointers, where he’s shooting an impressive 55.6 per cent. In addition, his effective field goal percentage of 79.2 per cent currently leads the NBL (minimum 10 field goal attempts), per spatialjam.com. It’s the result of a training regime designed to elevate Blanchfield’s game to the next level. Strength, conditioning and, of course, shooting mechanics. “He’s put in the time,” Melbourne Assistant Coach Mike Kelly said postgame. “He’s focused on improving the things that will make him a more consistent shooter. It’s been noticeable. For him, it’s been all about his balance; staying straight and landing how he starts his shot.” It’s also about having the stamina to implement those mechanics after continuous full-court sprints, while guarding the league’s leading scorer down the other end. And that, of course, is where his outstanding offseason comes into play. “Todd worked really hard,” Melbourne’s High Performance Manager Eric Hollingsworth told NBL Media this week. “We started really early back in May doing all sorts of stuff; circuits, running, weights and general conditioning. “Todd is very much the engine of the team… He is probably the most advanced in the weight room as well, in terms of the specificity of exercise. He’s been able to advance himself to a point where his workload is really high.” One thing’s for sure, he’s in a vastly different place to where he was this time last year, when he came into camp a little out of shape. “He knew I wasn’t happy with that last year and he’s learnt his lesson,” Hollingsworth said. “He’s done the work this year and it’s showing.” The real test now will be in the consistency; maintaining a high level of performance over the entire season. That’s where the greatest improvements will be seen and where very good players become great. “I now want to see him doing the good things every game that keep him in that top echelon of the league, or at least of our team,” Kelly said. “You’re going to have the peaks sometimes, you’ve just got make sure the valleys aren’t too low. For Todd last year the valleys sometimes got a little bit low. If he can continue to have a great game occasionally and then not let the valleys be too low, then I think he’s going to have a great year.” MJ said it and Todd Blanchfield is doing it. Now it’s time to reap the rewards.   Written exclusively for NBL.com.au by Liam Santamaria
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