PITTSBURGH - All-American center DeJuan Blair of Pitt willdeclare for the NBA draft and has begun hiring representatives,ending any possibility of returning for his junior season.
Blair is currently projected as a mid- to late first-round pick,but his status could change once he goes through the NBA's variouspre-draft workouts. Blair has not yet hired an agent, but hasretained Pittsburgh attorney James Cook to handle his marketing andadvertising. Among Cook's former or current clients are Memphisassistant Orlando Antigua, a former Pitt assistant coach, and boxerRoy Jones Jr.
"DeJuan Blair is Pittsburgh through and through, from thejunior program J.O.T.S. through Schenley High School to theUniversity of Pittsburgh," Cook said in a statement. "We areconfident that he will make the city of Pittsburgh proud and enjoya long NBA career."
Blair retained the option of returning to Pitt next season if hedidn't hire an agent or any other representative, but retainingCook means Blair no longer has that option.
This past season, Blair helped Pitt to its first No. 1 nationalranking, its first No. 1 seeding in the NCAA tournament and itsfirst trip to the NCAA round of eight in 35 years.
"I think he's an NBA player," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said ofBlair, who grew up about a half-mile from Pitt's campus. "I toldhim that from the time we recruited him. I've always had a higheropinion of him than most scouting services and coaches and mostmedia observers. I always thought of him as an NBA player."
Dixon and Blair met several times this week to discuss hisstatus, and the coach passed on information he received from NBAgeneral managers.
Blair is an in-between size for an NBA inside player at 6-foot-7and 260 pounds, but is an instinctive rebounder -- he easily ledmajor college players in offensive rebounding -- and he was notovermatched physically even against centers who were seven or eightinches taller.
Among the college season's signature moments was when themuscular Blair flipped UConn's 7-foot-3 Hasheem Thabeet over hisshoulder and to the court as the two contested a rebound.
"His size is not a hindrance in my mind," Dixon said. "It wasjust something he would overcome, as he had in high school and thencollege."
Blair averaged 15.7 points and 12.3 rebounds this season and wasthe Big East co-player of the year with Thabeet, and became thefirst AP first-team All-American at Pitt since the 1950s.
Pitt was a basket away from advancing to the Final Four for thefirst time since 1941 until Scottie Reynolds' driving layup with ahalf-second remaining gave Villanova a 78-76 victory in the EastRegional final.
The Panthers haven't had an NBA first-round pick since guardVonteego Cummings in 1999, but they could have two this year withBlair and forward Sam Young.
Young, Pitt's leading scorer, is a senior.
Pitt sophomore center Chris Taft left after two seasons in 2005and was projected as a first-round pick, but he slipped into thesecond round and is no longer in the league.