Pitt All-American DeJuan Blair announced April 9 that he was leaving Pitt with two seasons of eligibility remaining. At his news conference, Blair said there was no reason for him to return to school, saying: "I'm guaranteed of being a first-round pick. I'm an Internet freak. I go on all the draft boards. No one has me going in the second round. That's almost a guarantee to me."
Blair found out last night there are no guarantees on draft night. Blair and teammate Sam Young, also a first-round hopeful, were not selected until the second round. That sent shock waves around the Pitt campus where many had expected to hear their names called much earlier.
Blair, a 6-foot-6, 275-pound forward, was not selected until the San Antonio Spurs made him the seventh pick of the second round and 37th pick overall. Young, a 6-foot-6, 225-pound forward, was selected one pick earlier by the Memphis Grizzlies.
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Young and Blair could not be reached for comment. Blair invited members of the media to watch the draft at the Omni William Penn Hotel, but his publicist announced shortly after the first round ended that Blair would not be doing any interviews. He is expected to speak with reporters today.
Happy Walters, Blair's agent, said not being selected at the end of the first round turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
"I was hopeful that he would go between 15 and 25," Walters said. "But, if you saw, teams started taking a bunch of point guards from 17 on. After that, with some of the teams that were selecting at the end of the first round, I'd rather have him go in the second round.
"There is not a better place for DeJuan than San Antonio. I'm ecstatic. San Antonio has a great history. They have great veterans to teach him the game. When San Antonio called me there was shouting in the background because they were so excited to get him."
Blair had been looking forward to a big payday, but he is going to have to earn his first NBA paycheck. There are no guarantees being a second-round pick. First-round draft picks receive a guaranteed contract for two seasons with club options for the third and fourth years. Second-round picks have to make a team in order to cash an NBA paycheck. If he does make the Spurs, Blair likely will make the league minimum of $457,588.
Blair has plenty of experience overcoming the odds. When he did not receive Big East honors before the start of last season, he used it as motivation to elevate his game. By the time the Big East announced its awards at the end of the regular season in March, Blair was named the league's co-player of the year after averaging 15.8 points and 12.3 rebounds per game. Later, he was named a first-team All-American.
"At the end of the day, would he have liked to have gone earlier? Sure," Walters said. "Now, he has to prove himself all over again. He is going to be so tunnel-vision focused that I feel sorry for all the guys he comes across."
Apparently, Blair's two surgically repaired knees scared off teams from taking him in the first round. Blair had surgery on each knee when he was a player at Schenley High School, but he only missed one game in his two-year career at Pitt.
Nonetheless, it was a big surprise he lasted until the second round. Blair had been projected to go anywhere from the middle of the first round to later in the first round.
Blair allowed the Post-Gazette to chronicle his draft-day experience up until the draft began. Earlier in the day, he revealed that Indiana, Chicago and Utah had shown the most interest in him. Blair worked out for Chicago earlier this week, and the Bulls passed on him twice.
When asked yesterday morning which team he would like to play for Blair said it didn't matter as long as he was drafted. Blair didn't know he would have to wait until the second round, but his goal of playing in the NBA is still within reach.
"Either way, I know tomorrow I'll be in the NBA," he said yesterday morning. "I was thinking about back in high school ... I went to an NBA camp. They told us then that only five of you out of the 100 will make it to the NBA. I started praying that was going to be me. Now, it's going to come true."
Perhaps. But it does not seem like a slam dunk any longer.
The good news for Blair is that he arrives in a good situation in San Antonio. The Spurs have a veteran lineup with players such as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Michael Finley.
If he makes the team, Blair has a chance to develop without the pressure of producing big numbers as a starter.
Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published June 26, 2009 4:00 AM