Jerry Wainwright calls them "turnaround guys," players who arrive as if by providence, capable of instantly elevating a basketball program.
Wainwright experienced it firsthand as a Wake Forest assistant coach when his boss, Dave Odom, returned from the Virgin Islands with Tim Duncan.
Wainwright found his own man in Brett Blizzard.
"The first time I laid eyes on Brett, I knew he was our guy, our turnaround guy," said Wainwright, then the North Carolina Wilmington coach. "There was no question he was the guy for us."
Blizzard turned out to be everything Wainwright hoped for -- the first player to earn all-Colonial Athletic Association honors for four seasons and its player of the year the past two. Blizzard led the Seahawks to the NCAA tournament twice under Wainwright, who moved up to coach Richmond last spring after 13th-seeded Wilmington upset fourth-seeded Southern California in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
This season, Blizzard and the Seahawks (24-6) are back for a third time, seeded 11th and facing sixth-seeded Maryland on Friday.
"I'll never get to the point where I don't have something to prove," Blizzard said "We're always trying to prove ourselves at this level, that we were good enough to play with them."
If Blizzard had his way, the Terrapins would be far more familiar with him. Growing up in Tallahassee, his dream was to play for Florida State, even attending Florida High School on the FSU campus to play for his father. But then-Seminoles coach Steve Robinson wanted him to walk on for a year. Wainwright had seen Blizzard as a sophomore, on a recommendation from then-Tallahassee Community College coach Mike Gillespie, now at Florida A&M.
Wainwright stuck around, waiting out Robinson, and was rewarded immediately.
"Something that a lot of people don't know is that the day he played the last game of his senior year in high school, he probably weighed 167 pounds and could bench-press 220 pounds," Wainwright said of the 6-foot-4 Blizzard. "A lot of people must have thought he couldn't hold up. But the day he arrived at Wilmington, he weighed 191 and must have bench-pressed over 300. He had spent the entire spring and summer training for college, lifting, getting on the right diet. In essence, he arrived as a sophomore physically."
Blizzard improved noticeably each offseason, tinkering with his game to find new ways to get around the growing attention he received from opposing defenses. He added a step-back move after his freshman year that made him a more dangerous jump shooter; after his sophomore year, he learned how to better post up defenders. This season, the development was mostly mental; he learned to wait for his opportunities rather than force them.
"Sometimes, early in games he doesn't have many good opportunities," said Brad Brownell, Wainwright's longtime assistant and successor at Wilmington. "But as he's gotten older, he has learned it's a 40-minute night and he can string two or three three-pointers, or even four or five three-pointers, in a five-minute span, so he's patient."
Blizzard is as experienced as any player in the country -- he has started 124 games and played almost 4,500 minutes in his career. He has become remarkably consistent, shooting 42 percent on three-pointers, and averaging around 17 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals during his career.
This season, his numbers are at their best in nearly every category, including averaging 22 points while shooting 46 percent, a product of his terrific shot selection, though his teammates get on him about it -- for not shooting enough.
"Sometimes, he'll come off a screen and I'll get him the ball and he won't shoot," guard Tim Burnette said. "I'm like, 'Shoot it!' He picks and chooses his shots, and when he chooses his shots right, most of them go in."