The craziness of Joseph Blair’s return season with the No. 1 Arizona Wildcats may have actually peaked in late September.
At least he hopes so.
The UA’s undergraduate assistant, who returned to the floor while finishing up the degree he began pursuing as a standout Wildcat center in the mid-1990s, set up a Green Valley charity event known as the “Eagles & Aces Man-Maker Challenge” until 11 p.m. on Sept. 20.
Then he drove home and returned at 5 the next morning for the event that features golf, bowling and poker to benefit the American Diabetes Association.
He broke free that afternoon to drive to UA for a 2½-hour basketball practice, where he gets so physical on the floor that junior Matt Korcheck once split Blair’s lip, then returned to Green Valley and stayed until nearly midnight.
The next week, he hosted a replay of UA’s 1997 national championship game at the Fox Theatre as a fundraiser for the Primavera Foundation … and, in between, squeezed in coursework from four classes he took this fall while attending more UA practices.
“That was probably the most difficult event,” Blair said of the marathon golf/poker/bowling fundraiser. “But for that event alone we raised about $15,000, and we raised about $25,000 for Primavera. Trying to get the (former) players back here was big for me. I was really happy about that, and the numbers were tremendous.”
With the fall semester now over, things should calm down a bit for Blair, who says he has only one winter session class and one spring semester class left before he can graduate in May with a degree in general studies that has an emphasis on human development and social behavior.
Blair, a successful pro player for 13 years in Europe, retired in 2009, began the Blair Charity Group and took on UA’s undergraduate assistant role in the offseason as he decided to finish his degree.
He reflected on the experience so far this season with the Star.
What classes are you taking?
A: “I took two in the second summer session and four classes this semester. My goal was to get it done so my schedule is freer for the Pac-12 schedule. ...
“I’m taking a folk music class (this winter) and an environmental ethics class in the spring. I took a business ethics class last spring, and I enjoyed it. These are all community-focused. It’s been good for me to go back to school at this age so I can choose the classes that fit with what I’m doing.”
“When I was playing, I was a communications major. But with the changes in requirements, a lot of classes I took wouldn’t count toward a communications degree now.”
How do you manage your time?
A: “It’s definitely been a challenge without a doubt, and also my son came back and moved in with me full time, and he’s at Pima. It’s also been physically demanding for me, to say the least. I had hand surgery over the summer, and I’m trying to be out there and trying to work the guys out. And obviously, my charity hasn’t stopped and we’re still going strong. At times, it’s been more than I expected, but Sean (Miller, UA coach) has been really good if I have to miss a meeting or something. I did have some commitments before I took this job, some talking appearances. But I haven’t missed any practices, thank God.”
Have you cut back the charity work?
A: “I love the U of A, but it’s the community that ties me to Tucson more than the university. I want to do as much as can to better the community. I couldn’t imagine stopping. We’re now having basketball clinics, with a maximum of 50 kids a month, and have the Putt-ing Kids First event at Golf ’N Stuff on April 12, so we’re working on that already.
“My board of directors has really been picking up the slack; they’re doing an excellent job. I hope to have a little more free time in the spring.
Would UA coach Sean Miller have let you skip practice if you had to?
A: “He might have if I asked, but I’d rather do them both. I still see the commitment to U of A being a priority in my life. It’s important to be there as much as I can. My position doesn’t allow me to recruit, so my priority is those guys (current players). I’ve been showing them I’m right there with them. They know I’m there, and taking classes and finals along with them. They may not understand all my commitments, but I’ve demonstrated my commitment to them, and I think that gives me a platform for motivation.”
Do you participate in a lot of practice?
A: “I definitely run drills with the post guys. When we’re working (the offense) against a 2-3 zone, I’m in the middle of that zone. I get out on the scout team quite a bit and try to mimic what (opponents) play. I’m a big guy (6-foot-10). The tallest player we have on the scout team is (walk-on forward) Eric Conklin, and he’s 6-6, so it’s more realistic when I’m in the middle.”
Do you feel like you helped the success the UA frontcourt has had so far?
A: “Of course, it gives me profound satisfaction, without a doubt, to know I’m any part of the team’s success this season. That’s a big deal for me. But they make me look good. I always tell them, ‘Make me look good, and I’ll try to help you look good.’ …
“From being a spectator to now being involved with their growth is very different for me now because of the relationship I have with each one. Last year I was happy for their success and this year I’m proud of it.”
Anything surprised you in the games that you don’t see in practice?
A: “This isn’t to say everyone else isn’t doing great, but the person who really surprises me is Rondae (Hollis-Jefferson). He’s a gamer, for a lack of a better word. When the game starts, his intensity, everything, turns up another notch. And obviously Brandon (Ashley) has had a hell of a season, and Kaleb (Tarczewski) … those guys have days where they can just dominate practice.”
Does this experience make you want to be a coach someday?
A: “I definitely think by doing this I do have more of an interest than before. I felt I had a wealth of knowledge to give these guys, and to see that come to fruition makes you want to do it more. But there’s no way I can predict what the future will hold.
But if you did, you’d have to recruit.
A: “That’s kind of the big question in my mind. I enjoy the coaching, but the recruiting portion might be the stickler. Also I’m quite naïve about AAU basketball. I’d have to find a coach who would work with me on that.”