It sounds like a matchup you’d want to see in a basketball video game. The current Arizona Wildcats vs. the 1994 Final Four team. Center Kaleb Tarczewski vs. center Joseph Blair.
And now that matchup will be a reality.
Blair, a strong post player with a soft touch around the basket and 13 years of professional experience overseas, is going back to school and will join Sean Miller’s coaching staff as an undergraduate assistant.
Per NCAA rules, Blair is allowed to coach on the court (although he can’t recruit), and at a still-very-much-in-shape 39 will be able to get hands-on with the UA big men, including Tarczewski, a sophomore 7-footer with NBA lottery upside.
“With our frontcourt players in particular, there is nothing like having somebody as big and physical out there to go against as JB is,” Miller said in a Tuesday press conference.
“It will, for example, really help Kaleb Tarczewski. You can really go at a basket for 20 minutes or 30 minutes and get live game repetitions against someone as big and as smart and as physical as JB is. And then the knowledge he has accumulated over his career, he can share that with someone like Kaleb.”
Blair already has been a great ambassador for the program and Tucson, the founder and executive director of the Blair Charity Group.
Blair, with three children ages 19, 12 and 9, saw this as the right time to finish what he started academically. He left Arizona for pro ball — he was picked 35th overall in the 1996 NBA Draft — after being academically ineligible for the spring semester.
“The school thing is a big next step in my life,” Blair said. “When I left school so many years ago, one of my goals was to finish my degree. It is a big deal for me. And with my older son starting college this year, I want to make sure I beat him to the punch.
“I have three kids, and if I’m going to push education, the best way is to lead by example.”
Blair, who was a communications major — not much has changed in that field in 17 years, right? — will pursue a general studies degree.
As for coaching …
“After a 13-year professional career, it would almost be waste of my time if I didn’t share what I learned with the younger generation,” Blair said.
Blair will travel with the team, Miller said. The ex-Cat will either be on the bench or right behind the bench during game days.
From the just-like-old-times department, Blair will be reunited with his freshman roommate from college: Damon Stoudamire. Stoudamire joined the Cats as a full-time assistant in the spring.
Blair isn’t sure what lies beyond this one season as an unpaid undergraduate assistant. Pursue a master’s degree? Find another coaching opportunity?
“It’s definitely something I have always been interested in and have wanted to be involved with,” Blair said of coaching.
“At this stage, I just want to see how much I have to learn and see what I have to offer to these kids. I just want to get through this year.”
As for the charity work, he will continue to do what he can, but he has also been preparing others to lead the way through his sabbatical of sorts.
“I will be limited, but I will stay as active as I possibly can. Everybody knows how much I love Tucson, so there is no way I can say, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’” Blair said. “I have a great board of directors. They have a great passion for the community, just as I do.”
Blair, who arrived at Arizona two decades ago from Houston, Texas, played in 104 games for Arizona, starting 66. Playing as a 6-10, 265-pound center, he averaged 10.4 points and 6.5 rebounds for his career, shooting 61.3 percent from the field.
“I truly understand what the program means for this community,” he said. “To be able to jump in now, as a true Tucsonan, it’s truly an honor.”