DeJuan Blair Declares For NBA Draft

Some say that DeJuan Blair has a million-dollar smile, and in less than 10 weeks he'll find out just how many millions.

After going back and forth on the issue the past two weeks, DeJuan Blair made his intentions known publicly Wednesday that he has decided to declare for the NBA Draft June 25. Since he signed with Pittsburgh attorney James Cook this week and eventually hire an agent, Blair cannot withdraw from the draft.

"I will forgo my final two years of eligibility at Pitt and go to the NBA,'' Blair said. "I will declare without an agent right now, I didn't sign with one, but I will in the next couple weeks. It was more of something that I wanted to do other than money and making a big transition for me and my family.

"It was a real big decision, but I had to do what I felt was right for me. And nobody else made this decision but me. And I think it was the right decision. I want to thank all the fans, Pitt, my coach. He's a heckuva coach. I would do anything for him, like he would do anything for me.

"I love the university,'' Blair added. "I'm always going to be a Pittsburgher. I will never stay away from Pitt. I will always be back. But for me and my family and friends, I would just like to say thank you to everybody. The media, you got me my exposure, what I needed. You all did an excellent job doing stories.''

Pitt men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon held Blair in the highest regard as a Panthers student-athlete.

"I think he's an NBA player and I've told him that from the time we recruited him and his freshman year and sophomore year, as well,'' Dixon said. "I've always had a higher opinion of him as a player than most scouting services, most coaches and most media observers.

"I've always thought he was an NBA player and would be. His size was not a hindrance in my mind. It was just something he would overcome, as he had in high school and then college. ... DeJuan Blair has spent the past two years doing everything that he could for the University of Pittsburgh.''

Blair acknowledged that the 2008-09 basketball season was big for him. It began with a slight by the Big East, not mentioning him on even its honorable-mention all-conference team, and ended with Blair being named the Big East co-player of the year. He also earned Associated Press first-team All-America honors and led the Panthers (31-5) to their first No. 1 national ranking and the NCAA Elite Eight for the first time in 35 years.

Blair also is a finalist for the Wooden Award, which will be presented Friday night in Los Angeles to the nation's college basketball player of the year. He was a finalist for the Naismith Award as well.

"To be honest, I've done everything that an individual can do (in college),'' Blair said. "I had a heckuva individual year, just like I had a heckuva team year. I was All-American, Big East Conference player of the year, first-team in everything and up for the Naismith, the Wooden, all of them. So, if you have a year like that, you don't need to come back.

"I think I've got the skills for it, and I can only get better. I'm already on top of the ladder, but I can only climb back down. This is my dream. ... If your dream is in your face, why not reach for it. It's right there for me, what I talked about when I was younger, going to the NBA. I remember talking to my little brother about it. It's a good dream, and now I have a chance to go get it.''

Blair mentioned several times that he is guaranteed to be a first-round pick. That isn't true, but a self-described "internet freak,'' Blair noted that every website he's seen has him being selected in the first round, "as high as eighth and as low as 19th.'' But all in the first round.

"Nobody has me going in the second round,'' Blair said, "(and) it'll be big for Pittsburgh, the city, and help Pitt in recruiting if I can go in the first round. It'll be another accolade on Coach Dixon's resume. He just told me his last three centers went to the NBA, so that's good.''

Neither Chris Taft nor Aaron Gray were first-round picks, however. Gray was taken by the Chicago Bulls in the second round two years ago, and Taft -- who also left after two seasons in 2005 -- slipped from a reported lottery pick to the second round on draft day. Now, he's out of professional basketball.

"I'm not Chris Taft,'' Blair said bluntly when asked if he was aware of that situation. "I'm going to work hard to get to where I want to be. I control my own (destiny), so I'll be all right. I have a great support system behind me, and we work out every day and every night. ... I always love a challenge.

"It's going to be a UConn game every game for me from now on, if not better. So, I'm going to get ready for it, get ready for the NBA as much as possible. I'm going to work out here. Coach says this is always my home. My family and friends will always be here. (And) I'm going to take over Pittsburgh when I get done with this basketball stuff.

"Everything you do in life is a process,'' Blair added, "and I hope this is going to be a long one for me in the NBA. (All of) Pittsburgh is behind me, and I'm not looking back. ... My teammates, I wish them the best next year. It's going to be an honor to come back to watch them play. ... We didn't win the national title this year, but we had a heckuva run. (And) I'd like to see them do it again.''

Blair's first destination, along with forward Sam Young, will be the NBA's pre-draft camp that begins May 25 in Chicago.

If either Blair or Young are first-round picks, it would be the first time for Pitt since guard Vonteego Cummings was chosen 26th overall by the Indiana Pacers in 1999.

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