| Sports

Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Blair signs marketing deal, declares for NBA Draft

Thursday, April 9, 2009

After playing his high school and college basketball within walking distance of his Hill District home, the Big Fella is leaving the neighborhood.

DeJuan Blair, the former Schenley High and Pitt star, formally declared his early entry for the NBA Draft at a Wednesday news conference at Petersen Events Center, thereby ending his short but decorated college career.

The draft will be held June 25 at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden.

Although he has not yet signed with an NBA-certified agent, Blair said he plans to do so in "the next couple weeks." By signing a marketing deal with Pittsburgh attorney James Cook, the sophomore center forfeited his amateur status and final two seasons of eligibility under NCAA rules.

"There's no turning back," Blair said.

Blair, a 6-foot-7, 265-pound sophomore center, averaged 15.7 points and a Big East-best 12.3 rebounds per game in leading the Panthers (31-5) to their first-ever No. 1 national ranking (twice) and No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, as well as their first run to the Elite Eight in 35 years.

NBA or bust
DeJuan Blair is vying to become only the fifth Pitt player to be selected in the first round of the NBA Draft. Here are the Panthers' highest picks in the past 30 years:
Round Pick Player Year Team
1st 3rd Charles Smith 1988 76ers
1st 18th Eric Mobley 1994 Bucks
1st 23rd Jerome Lane 1988 Nuggets
1st 26rd Vonteego Cummings 1999 Pacers
2nd 21st Billy Knight 1974 Lakers
2nd 42nd Chris Taft 2005 Warriors
2nd 47th Darren Morningstar 1992 Celtics
2nd 49th Aaron Gray 2007 Bulls
2nd 55th Mark Blount 1996 Supersonics
3rd 56th Carlton Neverson 1981 Warriors

"I've done everything that an individual can do. I had a heck of an individual year, just like I had a heck of a team year," Blair said, rattling off honors ranging from consensus All-American and Co-Big East Player of the Year to finalist for the Naismith and Wooden national player of the year awards. "You have a year like that, you don't need to come back. You could. You could always get better, but you can get better and get paid for what you do."

Then he flashed his famous grin.

"Now," Blair said, "this smile is going to be worth a million dollars."

Blair's considerable backside, and the way he uses it to position himself in the paint, will actually be his money-maker. He ranked fourth in the NCAA in rebounds per game and was the nation's leader in offensive rebounds at 5.6 a game and, more impressive, an average of 8.2 per 40 minutes.

"The rebounding numbers are off the charts," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "That's the big thing. When you've got a talent like that, it separates you from other guys."

Blair, who turns 20 on April 22, has the full support of his family. His parents, Greg Sr. and Shari, and an aunt, Sharene Dixon, plan to move to the city of the team that drafts him to help ease his transition.

"When he started at Pitt, I used to say, 'You're going the whole four years.' He changed my mind," Shari Blair said.

Added Greg Sr.: "Too many good things happened for him not to leave. When the President says something good about you..."

The elder Blair's reference was to President Barack Obama's comment, "I think Blair is a man" on ESPN in picking Pitt to reach the Final Four in his NCAA bracket.

Blair also believes that he's bound to go in the first round.

"I'm an Internet freak, so I'll go on the draft boards and nobody's got me going in the second round," he said. "That's almost a guarantee to me."

Several mock drafts have Blair pegged as a mid-first rounder, although he could improve his stock at the NBA pre-draft camp next month in Chicago. The highest projection is No. 20, by, while and both have Blair going 22nd overall. Rookie salaries range from $1.5 million for the 13th choice to $941,000 for the 23rd pick, and only first-round selections receive guaranteed two-year contracts.

"I think it's way too early to even talk about a number," Dixon warned Tuesday. "We don't even know the guys that are putting their names in the draft. (There are) too many factors, unknowns at this point to even consider a number. The Web sites are all made that way but, as we all know and have seen in the past, they are largely inaccurate but fun to talk about."

Blair's predecessors as Pitt's center both were projected as first-round choices but slipped to the second round. In 2005, Chris Taft was chosen 42nd overall by the Golden State Warriors. In '07, Aaron Gary was the 49th pick, by the Chicago Bulls. Taft is no longer in the league.

Well aware of the knocks on him, especially his knees after tearing both ACLs at Schenley, Blair expressed no reservations about his decision.

"This is my dream," Blair said. "Like I told my aunt this morning, 'If your dream is in your face, why not go reach for it?' I always told my brother (Greg), 'I'm going to be in the NBA someday.' Now, it's here."




Show commenting policy

Most-Read Sports

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.