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Blair: Weight down, stock up for NBA Draft

By John Grupp
Sunday, June 21, 2009
 

DeJuan Blair is nearing this week's NBA Draft with a little baggage, but no luggage.

The former Pitt star recently completed a whirlwind cross-country tour that featured impressive workouts for NBA teams from Phoenix to Charlotte, complicated by some lost luggage in two different airports.

"It's been a long trip," Blair said, settling down Thursday afternoon in Bradenton, Fla. "There's something about my luggage that everyone wants it."

Not much else has gone amiss for the first-team All-American, who decided to turn pro after his sophomore season and the Pitt's run to the Elite Eight.

His surgically repaired knees raised some concerns, but Blair remained one of the high-risers in the weeks leading up to the draft.

His pro dreams, forged in rec centers in the Hill District and a packed Petersen Events Center, likely will be fulfilled Thursday with the two-round, 30-team draft, where he is expected to be a mid first-round selection.

"I'm excited my big butt off," he said.

Blair's rear isn't as big anymore. At 6-foot-7, he is projected to play power forward in the NBA after dropping about 30 pounds since the end of April — down to 275.

"He's met with (10) NBA teams, and he's blown out every player he's played against," said Steve Kyler, a long-time NBA writer who publishes Hoopsworld.com . "A couple of teams are very high on him."

Blair, who will watch the draft in Pittsburgh, combines with small forward Sam Young to give Pitt a pair of first-round candidates. Most mock drafts have Blair, the Big East co-Player of the Year, anywhere from Nos. 10 to 20 overall, while Young, a third-team All-American, is projected from Nos. 20 to 30.

Kyler believes Blair and Young are "absolute locks" to go in the opening round, where players get guaranteed contracts. Second-rounders are assured of nothing.

It will be the most significant draft for Pitt basketball since 1988, when Charles Smith went No. 3 and Jerome Lane went No. 23.

The last Pitt player to go in the first round was Vonteego Cummings (26th, 1999), before the Ben Howland-Jamie Dixon era started.

Focus on training

Blair, the first Pitt player since Don Hennon in 1959 to be named a consensus first-team All-American, has soared up the NBA draft boards, thanks to an eye-opening summer.

In four weeks at the Pro Training Center at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Blair dropped about 30-35 pounds, while working out nearly five hours a day and adhering to a strict diet regimen.

His body fat, he said, is 9.7 percent, down from 16 percent during his 300-plus pound days in Oakland. He worked with a nutritionist who banned fast food. He sticks to a high-protein, low-carb diet that sparked his transformation.

At the NBA pre-draft camp in Chicago, Blair was spotted at the snack bar — with two bananas and a bottle of water.

"I switched my whole diet," he said. "I've lost a lot of body fat and put on muscles. It was Hallelujah."

Said Blair's California-based agent, Happy Walters of Immortal Sports: "He's eating right for the first time in his life. He looks really good. He put himself in a good position."

The slimmed-down Blair dazzled general managers at workouts in 10 different NBA cities. In one two-week span, Blair visited, in order, Phoenix, Oklahoma City, Sacramento, Detroit, Milwaukee, Chicago, Charlotte, Indiana and Atlanta.

His final audition is Monday with Utah, followed by a trip to ESPN headquarters in Connecticut on Wednesday for some pre-draft appearances before returning to Pittsburgh for draft day.

"I'm glad I got through it," Blair said.

At the NBA pre-draft camp, Blair measured 6 foot, 5 14 inches barefoot and weighed 277 pounds. As a testament to his lighter frame, Blair recorded a maximum vertical leap of 33 inches — or the same as Young's.

Young also stood 6-5 14 inches, while weighing 223 pounds with a 4.9 percent body fat, the fifth-lowest among the 50 players invited to camp.

After Griffin, it's open

Blair is considered the No. 3 power forward available in the draft by ESPN, behind presumptive No. 1 pick Blake Griffin of Oklahoma and Jordan Hill of Arizona. The most popular mock draft destination for Blair is the Indiana Pacers with the No. 13 pick.

Young, ranked No. 4 among small forwards, is expected to go to the Sacramento Kings at No. 23 or the Portland Trail Blazers at No. 24.

"The big commentary on this draft is that beyond Blake Griffin, there's not a big talent difference between 2 and 22," Kyler, of Hoopsworld.com , said. "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That's where you are going to see Sam Young go. He is very capable of playing (in the NBA) today. He's not a project guy."

The only bad news for Blair came when medical tests at the pre-draft camp raised "red flags" about the former Schenley star's knees. Blair tore both ACLs in high school. The potential for injury could scare away some NBA general managers.

"It is what it is," Blair said. "Everything has been good. I don't think that's a problem."

Kyler, based in Tampa, Fla., less than one hour from IMG, doesn't believe the concern about Blair's knees are made by teams hoping it will cause the 20-year-old to slip.

"It's a legitimate concern," he said. "It's not posturing. He had pre-arthritic signs, thinning of the physical ligament. It's something teams are concerned about. But he never missed any practices. He's in amazing shape. There is no swelling in the knee. It's not like he's limping to the bench after practice and putting on ice."

Walters noted Blair played two years against some of the most physical players in college basketball and missed only one game (with a tailbone injury).

"He's been working out three times a day for four weeks, and his knees haven't bothered him," Walters said.

Young drawing interest

Young was seen as a late first-round or early second-round pick before a series of sparkling workouts vaulted him up the draft boards.

The fluke injury at the Toronto workout last month, where he was taken to the emergency room to have a wayward vertical-jump pole screw removed from his arm, didn't slow the fourth-leading scorer in Pitt history.

At 24, Young is the oldest of any of the projected first-rounders, but his stock kept rising with his workouts.

"I talked to seven teams at (workouts) at Minnesota and Golden State," Kyler said. "I asked them who the best player was. Everyone of them said: 'Sam Young.' "

Added Lance Walton, who runs NBA Draft Press.com: "Some teams really like Sam Young. There are about 10 teams interested in him."

Blair loves his choice

For sure, Blair's offseason work seems to have silenced the critics who second-guessed his decision to leave Pitt after two years. Blair moved from a late first-rounder to a possible lottery pick.

"I knew I was ready for the NBA," Blair said. "I just want to get drafted. I don't care where I get drafted. It's going to be a beautiful day for Pittsburgh. I hope all of Pittsburgh is proud of me."

Blair vows to keep his weight down — knowing it will help his knees — and bristles at suggestions he won't maintain his eating and workout habits once he becomes an NBA multi-millionaire.

"I've been getting that question a lot," Blair said. "It's all about me. I like the way I look and how I feel."

Blair dealt with the hassle of lost luggage before workouts with the Indiana Pacers and the Atlanta Hawks. Imagine trying to find clothes for someone with a 7-foot-2 wing span, at short notice in a strange city?

"I had to buy a lot of sleeveless shirts," Blair said. "But it's real cool. Everything is working out for the best."

Mocking it up

Here is where DeJuan Blair and Sam Young are placed in some NBA mock drafts.

Mock Draft: Blair — Young

ESPN.com : 21st (Hornets) — 20th (Jazz)

Hoopsworld.com : 11th (Nets) — 23rd (Kings)

NBA Draft.com : 15th (Pistons) — 23rd (Kings)

NBA Draft.net : 13th (Pacers) — 28th (Timberwolves)

NBA Draft Press: 13th (Pacers) — 30th (Cavs)

SI.com : 12th (Bobcats) — 20th (Jazz)

Additional Information:

NBA Draft

When: 7 p.m.-midnight, Thursday

Rounds: Two rounds

Where: Madison Square Garden, NYC

 

 
 


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