DeJuan Blair ready to unleash the rage
Exiled to Russia for two months, presumably wrestling bears and carrying trees (if not Hasheem Thabeet) over his back in a remake of the Rocky IV training montage, DeJuan Blair had a lot of time to think.
His two-year NBA career has seen its share of peaks and valleys, most notably being entrenched in the starting center position for much of last year before promptly defending or eating his way out of the rotation as the playoffs approached.
But away from his family, his coaches, and facing a season away from good friend George Hill, Blair believes his time spent with Russian team Krasnye Kryla Samara helped him mature.
“It was good to be alone,” Blair said. “Just being over there in that environment, I thought a lot, I grew up a lot, I think it was a great decision on my part.”
Between pushups and sprints, Blair had time to review his first two seasons on film. What he saw was enough to make him angry. Or at least enough to bring back the rage.
“I think I’m going to have a lot more rage like my last year at Pitt, I want to bring that DeJuan back,” Blair said. “I was trying to play like a robot, just not playing like me. I think this year I’m going to play like myself, not think too much, and just go out there and play.”
[pullquote]“I think I’m going to have a lot more rage like my last year at Pitt, I want to bring that DeJuan back.”[/pullquote]
Blair has some precedent for this developmental curve. Previously George Hill, his best friend on the team, played an almost robotic brand of basketball as head coach Gregg Popovich and staff built his point guard game from the ground up.
With two years of corporate knowledge and the trust of his teammates, Hill was prompted by Popovich to return to his college days as Indiana George, helping the combo guard come into his own.
A refocused and reinvigorated DeJuan Blair coming off the bench would be a boost for a Spurs team generally absent that public display of fire, give or take a Mario Elie or Stephen Jackson. And more importantly, a wildcard amongst its big man rotation.
Between Rasho Nesterovic, Nazr Mohammad, Kurt Thomas, and Antonio McDyess, the Spurs have always been able to find able system guys to pair with Tim Duncan. But as solid as such players have been, they have mostly been–as Blair described himself–robotic.
When the Spurs have thrived, it has been with a chaotic big man (Malik Rose, Fabricio Oberto, Robert Horry) creating plays coaches and systems can’t always account for alongside Tim Duncan.
But in order to do that, first Blair has to become accountable, mature, and dependable. In short, the professionalism head coach Gregg Popovich demands of all his players. And that, of course, begins with how he takes care of himself.
“DeJaun came back ready to go,” Popovich said. “He needs to lose a couple of pounds, but we like him to be a little bit over because your’e going to lose some in training camp, so he’s doing really well.”
Now in his third year, with the Spurs sporting rookies Kawhi Leonard and Cory Joseph, and younger in general, Blair is ready to come into his own. In addition to the requisite work on that 15-foot jumper, Blair said he is ready to help lead and set an example.
“[With the compressed season] I think they’re going to depend on me a lot to come through and try to be a vet to the rookies and knowing what to expect every game,” Blair said. “I’m going to have to step up in that aspect, I’m ready for it. I’m ready for all challenges.”