Thursday, December 4, 2008

Blair and the Panthers Good as Gold

In case you were even the least bit nervous about the result of last night's Pitt/ Duquesne City Game given the newly frisky nature of the Dukes, DeJuan Blair, dressed in stylish gold, quickly put any doubt to rest within the opening few minutes of the tip. While Sam Young was once again the team's leading scorer and continued to develop that suddenly impressive perimeter game, Blair was the real stud for the Panthers, and these days is the most feared man on the Pitt Roster for the opposition. Blair was 9 points short of Sam I Am in the scoring department, but racked up an impressive 17 rebounds, and incredible 10 of which were offensive. And these weren't the old Aaron Gray rebounds when he would do his best impersonation of a volleyball player by smacking dysmal looking shot after dysmal looking shot off of the front of the rim. No, these were a man's rebounds, a real ball player doing the Windex Man thing (cleaning the glass).

Few fans would even hesitate with a "Sam Young" response when asked the question, "Who is the Panthers best player this season?" But I'm not so sure about that. Granted Young is the top scoring threat on the roster and if these team is going to break past that invisible Sweet 16 barrier this season, they will need Sam to mature into a 20-point a night player capable of going off at any moment, but DeJuan Blair's ceiling and outright dominant playing style at times makes him the ultimate X factor when February and March roll around. He also has clearly become the heart and soul of this squad. Sure Sam is their clutch player, but DeJuan, for being just a sophomore, has shown incredible leadership and obviously has no trepidation when it comes to being a stand-up player. And the scary thing with Blair is, he is just starting to scratch the surface of his vast potential. It will be interesting to see how he plays once the Big East season rolls around, but he was very good last season despite playing against skyscraper giants like Roy Hibbert, and I think he crosses from good to great this year. Sure he's way undersized and certainly projects more attractively as a power forward than his current center position, but there's no way he doesn't turn into a very solid NBA player and the best pro player to come from the Panthers since Charles Smith. He maybe even could be the best this program has ever seen. His instincts and his hunger are what make the difference, not his size, and that was never more evident than in last night's ball game when Blair just outworked and outhustled the poor Dukes, who should have know they never stood a chance.

And speaking of last night's ball game, how 'bout those spiffy new uniforms the Panthers were sporting? I've always liked the concept of busting out third uniforms once or twice a season for significant games, and wished the football team would adopt the old-school script look as a third uniform and then break it out once a season. Anyways, I liked the gold look last night, much more then the overrated gold football uniforms, and think that these could be a cool thing to see once or twice a year to get the players and the fans fired up. But in a rivalry that makes fans think about the great games of a few decades ago, wouldn't the City Game be a better candidate for a throwback night? I guess I'm just nitpicking, but I think that'd be cooler, and then save the all-gold look for a huge Big East game or two.

The Photo above is an AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

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