Hard work, family spur La Salle guard

Posted at 8:00 AM, Feb 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-24 08:00:07-05

GREEN TOWNSHIP, Ohio - Jeremy Larkin didn’t need any proof CJ Fleming was in the gym this past summer.

The La Salle High School basketball teammates would see each other in the school parking lot around 1 p.m. when Larkin finished football conditioning and Fleming completed shooting on Bill Cady Court.

No one else was around at the time.

“I didn’t realize it was him because he just started driving,” Larkin said last week. “I saw him and said, ‘What’s up CJ?’ I would yell at him and whatnot. It was a string of a pattern every day I would be getting done and he would be getting done. We would see each other every day.”

It’s difficult to put a number on the amount of shots Fleming takes in a summer or during the season. It’s in the thousands for sure.

“I really do love (the game),” Fleming said last week. “I love playing it and I play every single day. It’s been good to me.”

But, whether he’s in the gym with a basketball-shooting practice machine, in the driveway or the basement of the family home in Monfort Heights, the La Salle junior is all about the game itself.

“Everybody thinks it’s me pushing him,” says his father, Lancers coach Dan Fleming. “I don’t say a word to him. It’s strictly self-motivated. He just wants to be good. He wants to do everything he can to be a really good player.”

CJ Fleming, a 6-foot guard, is a two-time Greater Catholic League South division player of the year (he shared the honor with Elder guard Frankie Hofmeyer this season).

Fleming, 17, became the eighth player in the La Salle program to reach 1,000 career points when he surpassed the milestone Feb. 5 in a game at St. Xavier.

The statistics are nice, but CJ, who is verbally committed to Bellarmine, wants a trip to Columbus with the Lancers next month.

As a sixth grader, he saw his dad coach his brother Ryan to the 2011 Division I state title. CJ was able to receive a credential to be on the floor for the celebration at Value City Arena in Columbus and gave his brother a hug.

“You can’t put into words how much La Salle basketball means to him,” said Ryan Fleming, who played collegiately at Northern Kentucky University and Christian Brothers and is now an assistant at Oak Hills.

CJ and Ryan have played more than 100 times in their driveway. CJ has won four times – the most recent time when Ryan was in college. But, it’s Ryan who is impressed with CJ.

“He worked a lot harder than I did in high school and college,” Ryan said.

Around the same time La Salle won the state title in 2011, Dan Fleming asked CJ how much he wanted to invest into the game of basketball. Turns out, CJ was all in.

“He saw all that (the state championship success) and he wants to be a part of that,” Dan Fleming said. “He wants to do something like that. For a lack of a better term, he is just ate up with basketball. He really is.”

CJ averaged 19.3 points and 3.2 rebounds for the Lancers entering the postseason. He shoots 43.3 percent from the 3-point line and 90.5 percent from the free-throw line.

The Lancers (19-3) play Colerain (1-21) in a Division I sectional semifinal at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Lakota West.

Fleming’s strength has improved, which has helped his shot this season. He’s worked on his floater and taking angles on spin layups.

He is also a leader who is called upon to step up in late in the game.

“Sometimes I do forget how old he is or what grade he’s in just because of the way he plays and how much passion he plays with,” said Larkin, who signed to play football with Northwestern.

That experience is an asset when it comes to decision-making.

Dan Fleming has no problem with CJ shooting from way beyond the 3-point arc. While others in the gym may hold their breath, CJ is confident in his shot – wherever it may be.

“I have never been one to worry about the line or anything like that,” Dan Fleming said. “The line means nothing to you if you work on it. If you kick and put your legs into it, then it doesn’t bother me one bit.”

Dan Fleming isn’t bothered by the dynamic of coaching his son either. The Fleming family knows where to draw a line between basketball and home. While the game is a significant part of their lives, Dan is careful not to bring the game results home to the family.

Dan Fleming, 53, earned four letters at NKU in the 1980s and scored 1,275 career points. His wife Lissa, a former NKU standout, scored 1,393 career points and led the Norse to the 1987 NCAA Division II Final Four.

Their daughter, Lexi, an eighth-grader, will be a freshman basketball player at McAuley next season.

Occasionally, Dan has to intervene if CJ is too enamored with practice at home. CJ often wakes up Lexi around 7 a.m. in the summer with his dribbling outside.

During an early February 2015 loss at Walnut Hills, CJ went outside to shoot for nearly an hour at 10 p.m. He was distraught at how he played and the way the team lost.

“I said, ‘It’s over with – get in,’” Dan Fleming said. “It’s a really, really big deal to him.”

The longtime La Salle coach admits he could be more objective if CJ wasn’t his son, but said his son works harder than anyone he’s ever coached. It’s not even close.

“Sometimes you have to be the parent and say, ‘No, no you put in four hours today and that’s plenty,’” Dan Fleming said. “‘It’s mid-August and here you are trying to kill yourself. Enough is enough.’”

While Dan Fleming is known for his shouting during a game, he leaves all that behind before going back home.

“I think it’s funny that he is so intense right here but he gets off the court and he is the opposite,” CJ said.

CJ appreciates the separation but basketball is still his main hobby. The same can be said for those closest to him.

“For the last 26 years it’s kind of been the hub of what our family revolves around,” Dan Fleming said. “Whether it’s open gym or conditioning or practice or games. I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing. It’s just a huge part of our family. It’s the centerpiece of our family.”