U of L hoops feature: Wayne Blackshear

The sixth in a series of stories published by Cardinal Authority on individual members of the University of Louisville basketball team. The sixth installment looks at junior Wayne Blackshear.

Of the many things on display during the University of Louisville three Red-White scrimmages was a more confident and aggressive Wayne Blackshear. The junior guard/forward averaged 15 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals in the three public outings.

His five dunks serve as an indicator that his non-stop off-season workouts were worth the effort and that his injury-riddled past is behind him.

"I think so," said Blackshear. "I took this off season very seriously. I didn't take any days off. I was in the gym everyday working my butt off. I was in the weight room everyday, so I think it's paying off."

Expectations have been high since the product of Chicago (Ill.) Morgan Park committed to Rick Pitino on Christmas Day 2009. A five-star prospect, Blackshear was a Parade Magazine and McDonald's All-American following a stellar senior season.

Instead of arriving at the University of Louisville ready to become a significant contributor, he was on the mend after injuring his left shoulder while practicing for the McDonald's All-American game. To make maters worse, on October 28, 2011, just days after receiving clearance to begin practicing with the team, he suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder.

After three months of strenuous rehab, Blackshear made quite the impression when he finally saw the floor for the Cardinals on February 11,, 2012. In twenty minutes of action he poured in 13 points in a crucial conference game at West Virginia. He completed his freshman campaign making 15 appearances, including one start, and averaged 2.5 points.

He started 34 games during the 2012-13 NCAA Championship run, averaging 7.6 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound wing scored in double figures in 10 games and his 45 three-pointers were third on the team.

There were glimpses of Blackshear's ability throughout his sophomore season, but the struggles of overcoming a pair of shoulder surgeries slowed his progress.

"I was limiting myself last year because the shoulder was messing me up mentally, so I think I'm past that," Blackshear explained. "I'm showing a lot of different things in practice with my game, so I think it's going to be a good year."

The improvement in his play has been notable at the trio of scrimmages and in the closed door practices at the on-campus Yum! Center.

"He's still not where he was in high school, yet," head coach Rick Pitino said. "He's getting closer. His ball-handling is the last hurdle for us. He has to get better handling the basketball, but in terms of exploding, and in terms of making strong moves, and playing good defense, his shot is improved, he's coming on."

The physical and mental restraints are now a thing of the past for Blackshear. Instead of worrying about the durability of his shoulders, he's improving his all around game.

"It feels great," he said. "The last two years is behind me. I'm focusing on this new year and moving forward."

In the 82-76 win over Michigan in the NCAA title game, Blackshear scored 8 points, including a three-pointer to open the second half to give the Cardinals the lead.

"I'm only getting better," said Blackshear. "Russ has been pushing me a lot, so my confidence is real high right now."

Now a veteran, Blackshear realizes the hard work that will be required to defend a national title. He's smart to anticipate that every opponent will play their best in their attempt of getting a piece of the defending champ.

"It is a little different now because everybody is coming after us," he said. "We have a target on our back every time we step on the court. We have to play hard every time we step out there."

"We're still hungry. We still want to win another one."

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