DeJuan Blair

Getting to know the star Pitt Panthers' forward.

DeJuan Blair has enjoyed success on the basketball court everywhere he’s been. The young man who grew up in the Hill District, just a few bounce passes away from the University of Pittsburgh’s campus, was a megastar at Schenley High School before deciding to play college ball for coach Jamie Dixon’s Panthers. In his initial season at Pitt, Blair became the first player in the school’s history to collect at least 400 points and 300 rebounds as a freshman. What’s more, he helped lead the Panthers to their second-ever Big East Conference Tournament championship.

But Blair’s story isn’t all about basketball. On the court and off, he has presence and depth of character that belie the 19 years he’s spent on the planet. He’s fearless and charismatic, and has a way of putting those around him at ease. The Pitt basketball media guide proclaims: “Blair has become a fan favorite for his glowing on-court personality.” All those points and rebounds don’t hurt, either.

PM: What was it like for you winning the Big East Tournament title as a freshman?
D.B.: It was fun. It’s always fun winning championships, whether it’s the Big East or whatever it is. I know that’s what their hope was here, and to come in and help them and do what I did was a good experience for me.

PM: You smile an awful lot out on the court. You’re like the Hines Ward of college basketball, aren’t you?
D.B.: I just have fun out there. When I have fun, I play good. If I was mad I wouldn’t play as good. I think if my teammates see me smiling, they feel more comfortable, and they have fun with me. I love to win, and I love to make plays. Plus, I think I intimidate people when I smile.

PM: It makes the opposition wonder what you’re up to, huh?
D.B.: Yeah, they want to know, “What’s wrong with him?” But I have good teeth, so why not show them off?

PM: When did you become a fan of Panthers basketball, and do you remember your first trip to the Petersen Events Center?
D.B.: I grew up watching players like Charles Smith and Jerome Lane, Orlando Antigua and people like that. But the first time I went to the Petersen Events Center, back when nobody knew me, I sat up in the rafters. I was up there with the guys who were changing the light bulbs.

PM: How do you want to be remembered when your career at Pitt is over?
D.B.: I want to be remembered as the most fun to watch and the best player in Pitt history. I know that’s never going to happen, but I want people to say, “It was fun watching him. I wish he was still here.”

PM: What does it mean to you as a young African-American to see Barack Obama get elected president?
D.B.: That means a lot to me and the younger kids around my community. They don’t have to just look up to football, basketball or baseball players. Now they know they can be the next president. They can’t sit around and say you can never be a black president, because we have one right now. So why not try to be the president? You can do a lot of other things instead of just playing basketball. You can have that on your mind now. That gives my community and the African-American culture a better feel for our lives.

PM: Sometimes kids look up to athletes too much, don’t they?
D.B.: Yeah, they do. Very few people get the chance that I’m getting right now. Then when they don’t get what they want, they end up giving up and getting out on the streets. If you don’t make it in sports, you have to have something to fall back on.