Blair seeking more playing time

After standout rookie season he is after more time NBA

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DeJuan Blair was having fun playing the part of emcee at the prom lineup for Schenley High School students Friday afternoon in Highland Park. But with all due respect to his alma mater, playing master of ceremonies is not what Blair wants to be doing when the NBA playoffs are going on.

Blair, an All-American at Pitt who just completed his rookie season in the NBA with the San Antonio Spurs, would rather be performing his usual role as master of the boards.

San Antonio's season ended unceremoniously when the Spurs were swept out of the playoffs in the second round two weeks ago by the Phoenix Suns, who are now playing the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.

It was a disappointing end to a terrific rookie season for Blair, who left Pitt after two seasons to fulfill his dreams of playing in the NBA. Blair was the only member of the Spurs to play in all 82 regular-season games. He started 23 contests and averaged 7.8 points and 6.4 rebounds a game.

Blair played mostly backup center to Spurs superstar Tim Duncan, but he did show flashes of his potential in several strong outings. He played his best game in the final contest of the regular season against the Dallas Mavericks.

Blair was in the starting lineup because Duncan was resting before the playoffs, and Blair played like someone who was auditioning for a bigger role on the team next season. He scored 27 points and grabbed 23 rebounds.

It was the second time in his rookie year that he scored 20 points and pulled down 20 rebounds in the same game. He scored a season-high 28 points and had 21 rebounds in a game against Oklahoma City in January.

Blair was the first rookie not selected in the first round of the draft to post a 20-20 game in 29 years.

"It was wonderful, just getting experience," Blair said. "That was the best thing. I'll know next year what's going to go down. I was just trying to have fun."

Blair helped the seventh-seeded Spurs upset No. 2 seed Dallas in the first round of the playoffs, 4-2. He averaged 4.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per game in the series, his first exposure to the heated in-state playoff rivalry between the two teams.

"That rivalry is like West Virginia and Pitt," Blair said. "It was crazy. I loved it."

But the Spurs, who were looking for a fifth NBA championship in 12 years, were denied a date with the Lakers by a hot-shooting Suns team that shredded San Antonio's defense game after game in the short series.

"Phoenix was a tough matchup for us," Blair said. "They made a lot of 3-pointers. They shot well. We played well, but their shots went in. It was a big learning experience for us."

Blair is back home for a while visiting with friends and family. He will play host to the DeJuan Blair Basketball Camp July 6-9 at Robert Morris University, where he hopes to pass on some of his expertise to boys and girls ages 9-18.

After his camp, Blair will turn his attention to the NBA summer league. He said his main goal during the summer league is to play power forward well enough to convince the Spurs that he can play that position full-time next season.

At 6 feet 7 and 265 pounds, Blair was an undersized center and sometimes encountered difficult matchups that got him into foul trouble or put him on the bench. If Blair can demonstrate the skills necessary to play power forward he can earn a bigger role on the Spurs.

For Blair, it has been a whirlwind 12 months. Last year at this time he was going through pre-draft medical testing that revealed neither of his two surgically repaired knees had anterior cruciate ligaments.

That fact was the biggest reason he fell to the second round of the draft. Blair put up a confident exterior after the ordeal, but he revealed Friday that underneath it all he questioned whether he would fulfill his dreams of making it to the NBA.

"My favorite part of my first season was just making it," Blair said. "I didn't think I was going to make it at all. I went through all of that stuff, my name not being called [in the first round]. I had some doubts. I definitely had some doubts."

Those doubts are gone now, replaced by a desire to improve his game and take the next step in what is shaping up as a promising professional career.

"I'm just trying to get better in all aspects of my game," Blair said. "I want to keep having fun and keep getting better."

Ray Fittipaldo: or 412-263-1230.


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