“Nice guys finish last,” Pitino told Blackshear.
After three seasons of up and down play, Pitino needs Blackshear to finally step into that elite-level player he was expected to be during his career. With this being his final year, it is his last chance to showcase what earned him Illinois Mr. Basketball and a spot on the McDonalds All-American team.
Blackshear said the message was loud and clear.
“Since the season ended I haven’t been home one time,” Blackshear said. “I stayed here the whole year to get in better shape, get my body right, and just worked out.”
Blackshear said he opted to stay in town over the summer not only to work on his game but to also help with the youngsters on the roster. He said he feels as confident in his game since he came to U of L and then was riddled by a shoulder injury that slowed him for nearly two years.
“Basketball is a confident game, once you get your confidence its kind of hard to leave it there,” Blackshear said. “For me personally, it helped me out a lot not going home and just focusing on basketball.”
It could be for Blackshear that this year the pieces have fallen into place to allow him to shine. He’s needed in the lineup for the Cardinals and it’s his position without Luke Hancock to share minutes with him.
And now that Blackshear has the opportunity to be the veteran leader of a team he wants to take advantage and prove to everyone he can live up to the hype.
“I just want to show everybody what I can really do,” he said. “I just want to win we got a tough schedule non-conference and conference, so I just want to get back to the final four.”
And so far it’s been good for Blackshear.
He had 22 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals in the exhibition win against Barry after combining for just 26 points in his previous five exhibition games dating back to his freshman season.
On Sunday, Blackshear had 16 points, four rebounds and two blocked shots. He had a drive and dunk that drew a large round of applause from the crowd.
”I believe he is about 80 percent of the way there,” U of L coach Rick Pitino said. “Remember, in high school you are bigger than everybody else, so you can bully them. He still doesn't have a steal and doesn't have an assist. I think he is 80 percent of the way there. I think he is playing great basketball right now.”
Blackshear told the media that this year the fans would see a new and improved Wayne. He admitted that after his two shoulder injuries to start his freshman year he became more a more timid player, but this year it is going to be different.
“Basketball skill wise everything is different about me,” he said. “I’m just ready to compete against the best people in the country right now.”
Along with his more aggressive style of play, fans can also expect something different with Blackshear – his number. For his final year in college, Blackshear has opted to go back to his original number 25 that he wore his freshman year, a number that he said he has been wearing his whole life.
”I like that number,” he said.
One of the biggest changes for Blackshear has been stepping into the veteran leader role. He was not used to having so many new freshmen coming to him for advice and questions, but he has learned to embrace the role.
“Me coming in when I had Peyton (Siva), and Gorgui (Dieng),” he said. “Now, I’m the guy that people look up to and ask questions.”
The Cardinals have plenty of newcomers this season on the roster and Blackshear said he knows his role as a leader will be difficult. He gives Pitino a ton of credit for challenging him and making him a better leader.
“He knows what kind of person I am,” Blackshear said. “He knew I was going to take that and just try to go with it. That’s what made me want to stay here and just get better everyday, and that’s what I did.
”I just want to be the best leader possible.”