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Blair should declare for NBA Draft

| Monday, March 30, 2009

BOSTON — Pitt sophomore center DeJuan Blair was better in the NCAA Tournament than he was during the regular season, which means he's likely to leave early for the NBA.

Blair averaged 16.8 points and 13.8 rebounds in four tournament games after averaging 15.6 points and 12.2 rebounds during the season. He made all nine of his shots in Pitt's 78-76 loss against Villanova on Saturday night in the East Regional final.

Declaring himself for the draft is the right move for Blair, who would become a marked man following the loss of departing seniors Sam Young, Levance Fields and Tyrell Biggs.

Blair, whose 6-foot-7, 265-pound frame makes him an inviting target for officials, was not happy this season with some of the fouls called against him.

That situation is likely to continue, particularly with Blair becoming Pitt's No. 1 scoring option in the wake of Young's departure. Opposing defenses will collapse even more around Blair unless consistent perimeter shooters develop to complement his inside game.

It's the curse of college big men, who feel they are treated differently by officials because of their size.

Former Ohio State center Greg Oden left for the NBA after one season in college. Oden had a great freshman year in leading the Buckeyes to the national championship game. But he also was in foul trouble in four consecutive NCAA Tournament games.

Blair patterns his power game after NBA star Shaquille O'Neal, who also was plagued by foul trouble in college.

College centers tend to be more effective in the NBA because of how the game is called. They are permitted to be more physical in the pros than in college.

Blair, who would be one of the top players selected in this year's draft, thrives on physical contact. He still needs to learn when to be physical and when to back away, but he's a smart player with excellent instincts.

Prior to the regional final, Blair, his teammates and coach Jamie Dixon agreed that Blair's foul trouble was a factor in Pitt's loss at Villanova in January.

"That game, I picked up two fouls early," said Blair, who fouled out three times this season.

Dixon said Blair has improved at avoiding fouls. Blair averaged 34.0 minutes in the NCAA Tournament, compared with 26.4 during the season.

Blair couldn't have played nearly eight more minutes a game in the NCAA Tournament if he were in constant foul trouble. Blair didn't have more than three fouls in any of the four tournament games.

"DeJuan is just a sophomore. He's going against older guys oftentimes, but he's developed and gotten better," Dixon said. "I can remember telling people, local people, media, that he was going to be our starting center, and I was laughed at.

"He's had some great games and continues to be a great teammate. He's a great guy to have around and a great leader, which is an amazing thing to do, especially for a big guy."

It's a win-win situation for Blair.

If he remains at Pitt for another year, he can work on staying out of foul trouble, develop a jump shot and make himself more marketable. If he opts for the NBA, he will become an instant millionaire.

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