Sean Miller wanted him back. So did Kaleb Tarczewski and a bunch of other Arizona Wildcats.
But it turns out that Joseph Blair didn’t really need to be recruited for another season on the UA staff. He wanted to return, too.
For next season. And maybe many more.
Blair, the former UA standout center who will transition from an undergraduate assistant to a graduate assistant next season, said he’s now thinking about making a career out of coaching, even while he’s been busy with his charity foundation.
“I definitely would like to,” Blair said. “I was kind of on the fence about it last year. I realized how much I enjoyed it, and I definitely have the bug to do it now.”
That’s fine with Miller, who said during his offseason news briefing Wednesday that he’s had conversations with Blair about his future.
“He’d be a terrific coach, whether college or the NBA, because he has such an incredible way with players,” Miller said. “They love him.”
Blair bonded with players both on and off the floor last season. As a former high-level European pro who remains in good shape, Blair spent hours trading elbows with guys such as Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Aaron Gordon last season.
But, as Miller indicated, he also offered an amiable side off the floor. In fact, Blair was one of the goofier personalities inside the UA locker room during the NCAA tournament, saying he was doing so to keep the players loose.
It was there that he affected more than just the big men.
“I had a good relationship with them,” Blair said of Ashley and Tarczewski. “But I can’t say it was just those two individuals. Obviously, Kaleb said he wanted me to come back, but I also heard from T.J. (McConnell), Gabe (York) and other guys. I have a good relationship with quite a few guys on the team.”
Blair said he intends to pursue a master’s in education leadership while taking a minimum of three classes per semester next season. Because he will be considered a graduate assistant, he will be allowed to have the same on-court role he had in practice last season. He will also get to work with newcomers such as Dusan Ristic and Craig Victor this time.
“He was a great addition to this past year, especially with our frontcourt players, and there’s more frontcourt players on our team than there were a year ago,” Miller said. “I think J.B. will continue to be an asset for us this year.”
Next phase for Ashley
About half of the Wildcats are arriving for the first full summer session starting next week, and nobody has more work to do than Ashley. Entering his fifth month since the Feb. 1 injury to his right foot, Ashley is expected to undergo more extensive rehabilitation with the goal of being fully cleared later this summer.
“We look at June, July, August as being pivotal,” Miller said. “At that point we would like to see him return to form and be out there. He’s been in a difficult situation of taking it slow. It’s not easy just to do nothing. …
“When he comes back, he’s going to be on a mission to returning back to five-on-five full court.”
Miller said Ashley has been walking underwater with decreasing soreness and lifting weights. He said he expected Ashley would be fully cleared sometime in August and has a good long-term prognosis.
“So far so good with Brandon,” Miller said. “We expect a full recovery, not only here but allowing him to leave Arizona and have a long career beyond.”
UA staffer to re-join Whitford at Ball State
Danny Peters, UA’s assistant director of basketball operations, will join James Whitford’s Ball State staff as an assistant coach, Miller said.
Former UA manager Ben Tucker will return to the Wildcats to take Peters’ spot, which Miller typically uses to develop aspiring coaches.
“That’s what this is about,” Miller said. “James left here to be a head coach at Ball State, and obviously it makes perfect sense why he would want Danny as part of his staff.”
Tucker was a student manager under UA’s two interim head coaches, Kevin O’Neill and Russ Pennell, while also spending two years with Miller before becoming an assistant at Walsh University and the College of Idaho. Miller said the head coaches at Tucker’s last two stops have spoken highly of him.
“They rave about his work ethic and his mind for the game. … I know he’s excited about it, and we’re equally excited,” Miller said. “That’s an important position because they wear many hats.”
- Miller was elected to the National Association of Basketball Coaches board of directors. “It’s a great honor,” Miller said. “If I can help or give back to the game and be part of some things that hopefully make college basketball better in the future, I think that’s the right thing to do. So I’m really excited about it.”
- Miller is scheduled to leave Monday for two weeks in Colorado Springs, Colo., where he will be an assistant for USA Basketball’s U18 team during its tryouts and an ensuing qualifying tournament for the 2015 World Championships.
Among the invited players are incoming freshman Stanley Johnson, UA commits Tyler Dorsey and Justin Simon, and UA target Stephen Zimmerman, though Miller said it won’t be about recruiting but instead about helping USA Basketball and learning as a coach. “USA Basketball is something we have all grown to cherish,” Miller said.
- Four Wildcats have been in town for summer presession courses —
- Elliott Pitts
- , Ristic, York and McConnell — while those arriving for the first full session include Victor, point guard
- Parker Jackson-Cartwright
- Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
- . All the Wildcats are scheduled to attend the second session in July.