Fall From Heaven: The DeJuan Blair Story

Stephen DyellCorrespondent IJune 26, 2009

DAYTON, OH - MARCH 22:  DeJuan Blair #45 of the Pittsburgh Panthers looks on against the Oklahoma State Cowboys during the second round of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the University of Dayton Arena on March 22, 2009 in Dayton, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Labeled defective and risky, a man who has only known one home will look to prove the doubters wrong as he enters his dream of the NBA Thursday night a lot further down than expected.


DeJuan Blair grew up in Pittsburgh in literally walking distance of his former college school. He was the youngest and smallest of four children, but that soon changed as he began to grow. By the time Blair entered Schenley High School; he stood 6’7" and had a punishing body to go along with the tall frame.


The three-time Pittsburgh City League Player of the Year was a highly-regarded prospect coming out of high school where he fielded many offers. Florida, Tennessee, and even smaller schools like Rutgers and Miami all pushed hard for the young talent.


Blair’s parents wanted him to leave the state to go to college, but it was for his grandmother that Blair chose Pittsburgh.


With the team losing starter Aaron Gray to graduation, his grandmother, Donna Saddler, recognized the chance her grandson had at starting on a talented local team, and so he went with coach Jamie Dixon’s team.


Blair became the starter, and also the terror, as he lead the Panthers to a Big East Conference tournament win over schools such as Syracuse, Georgetown, and Connecticut. Blair also won the Big East Rookie of the Year, as he put up nearly 12 points per game and just over nine rebounds.


In his second year, Blair tore up the field even worse, winning the Big East Player of the Year award with fellow NBA hopefully Hasheem Thabeet. Blair’s 12.3 RPG were one of the best in the country, as he was linked in NBA mocks to go top-10 with fellow Big East star Thabeet.


The consensus First Team All-American decided to place his name in the NBA draft, hiring an agent just a day after stating his decision, forcing him out of the NCAA. It was then things began to go downhill.


Blair had ACL surgery on both knees in high school, but suffered no setbacks in college. NBA general managers seemed worried about his future, as past mistakes of Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Allan Houston were still fresh in many minds.


Blair went from workout to workout, even calling himself a “lottery pick” in an interview, as he felt he impressed each city he entered, and with his toughness and hard work, the Pittsburgh native looked to make his dream a relativity.


The night came, and Blair spent it with his family, waiting for his name to be called to an NBA team. They began to wait patiently, as players who hadn’t even scored above 10 points per game were being drafted ahead of him. The man who he shared the Big East Player of the Year went second overall, and Blair was left waiting.


Blair waited all the way until the 37th overall pick, where the San Antonio Spurs decided to take a risk on the talented 20-year-old.


The Spurs had a busy week, trading for Richard Jefferson while losing two valuable bigs in Kurt Thomas and Fabricio Oberto, leaving the door open for him to prove what many didn’t believe 36 picks ahead of him.


Chad Ford has already called him the steal of the draft and a possible starter for a team that many say has brought itself to second overall in season previews.


Blair knows what he has to do, as many labeled him defective, even though he has the hardware and resume to prove otherwise. Blair will be one of the players that every general manager will be watching in April—maybe not dominating the way he did in college, but playing the role asked by new coach, Greg Popovich, and with that, his ring fingers might be filled up quicker than others in his draft class.


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