Blanton honored by Tennessee Wesleyan
A standout player on three 13th Region Tournament championship teams at Harlan in the 1990s, Nathan Blanton followed his memorable high school career by doing something very few players accomplish on the next level.
He got better.
Blanton went on to become a star at Tennessee Wesleyan College in Athens, Tenn. He was named to the Tennessee Valley Athletic Conference all-freshman team in 1997, earned all-conference honors in 1998 and 1999 and was the league’s player of the year as a senior in 2000. He was a second-team NAIA All-American that year and finished with 2,008 career points.
His college accomplishments were honored Sunday as Blanton was named to the Tennessee Wesleyan College Athletics Hall of Fame.
“I am very honored to be inducted into the Hall of Fame at Tennessee Wesleyan,” Blanton said. “I will always will be grateful for my basketball careers at Harlan and Tennessee Wesleyan. I had great support from my family, friends and both communities in Harlan and Athens (Tenn.). I had the opportunity to play with some great players and enjoyed every minute of the time I was blessed to play.”
Blanton grew up around basketball and played for his father, Jerry, in middle school. He played four seasons at Harlan under Mike Jones with an all-star cast of teammates, led by 1995 Mr. Basketball Charles Thomas, who went on to play at the University of Minnesota. Todd Cox was also an all-stater in 1995 on Harlan’s state final four team and signed with Virginia Commonwealth before starring at Georgetown College. Michael Jones, currently the coach at Harlan County High School, was an all-stater in 1994 and went on to play at Cumberland College. Casey Lester, Blanton’s teammate from grade school all through high school, was an all-stater in 1996 and went on to Berea College before returning home to coach the boys team at Harlan for several years.
Several other Harlan County basketball standouts preceded Blanton at Tennessee Wesleyan, including current Harlan coach Derrick Akal and current Harlan County baseball coach John Lewis. Future Harlem Globetrotter Paul Gaffney also played there, along with Cumberland teammates Gary Amos and Richard Washington.
Blanton’s aunt, Kim Kelley, was the first girls player in county history to sign with a Division I school as she went on to UNC-Charlotte after earning all-state honors in 1979 at Cawood High School. Kelley went on to coach at Evarts High School. Blanton’s parents, Jerry and Donna, still live in Wallins. Jerry Blanton was the county’s property valuation administrator for many years and Donna Blanton was a teacher.
Blanton currently lives in Knoxville with his wife, Kelly, a former Tennessee Wesleyan soccer player, and their daughters Zoë, 9, and Mei, 2. He is assistant director of nursing and Cornerstone of Recovery.