By Danny Martinez, UA Communication Services
In a relationship that dates back 23 years, Joseph Blair and Arizona basketball have proven to be a successful combination. As a player from 1992 to 1996, Blair’s Wildcats posted a cumulative record of 104-23 (.819). In his first year as Arizona’s undergraduate assistant coach, the team is a perfect 20-0 record prior to its trip to the Bay Area.
“I’ve only been involved with the program when there’s been success. We had some success when I was here as a player,” said Blair, referring to the team’s two Pac-10 titles and its 1994 Final Four appearance. “But nothing like we’re having this year.”
His contributions as a player are well-known. Blair averaged 10 points and seven rebounds per game during his career and went on to enjoy a 13-year professional career. However, be cautious to overlook his work in his first year on the staff.
Blair has helped Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski realize their potential and his tutelage is a significant reason the two of them, plus contributions from Aaron Gordon, form arguably the best frontcourt in America. The raw numbers tell some of the story, Ashley averages five points and one rebound better than a season ago while Tarczewski averages three points and a rebound better.
The rest of the story can be seen by watching the film. Their dominating low-post defense will not show up on a stat sheet, but can completely alter a team’s offensive attack.
The massive growth that both have undergone happen to coincide with Blair’s arrival on campus. The humble Houston native gives all the credit to the players.
“It’s hard for me to take credit for anything these guys do because no matter what it comes down to their effort and their attitude,” said Blair. “That’s what makes them successful.”
Sean Miller has branded Arizona “A Player’s Program” and focuses on the past, present and future players. Joseph Blair, along with former teammate and current assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, play a big part in all three of those phases. Blair is a part of the massive Arizona family and is putting his imprint on what has, to date, been Arizona’s most successful season in its storied history. Additionally, his assistance in the development of Ashley and Tarczewski will prove to be a heavy recruiting tool to forwards to help build the future.
Blair has been fortunate enough to play for a Hall-of-Fame coach and now coach alongside one of the best young coaches in the country and sees some similarities between Lute Olson and Miller.
“They’re both very organized coaches,” said Blair. “They’re very meticulous on everything. Both of them run this program as if it’s a professional program.”
Their influence on Blair has helped him become an excellent teacher of the game. Blair’s time as an instructor goes far beyond his time on the sidelines with the Wildcats. Blair has been working at and hosting youth basketball camps since the 1990’s, dating back to when he was a member of the Harlem Globetrotters and running their youth camps all across the country. This led to Blair running his own camps and eventually starting the Blair Charity Group, a local charity group that focuses on Tucson’s youth.
“What we do is provide free-of-charge leadership and social-skill based basketball camps and clinics around the Tucson community,” said Blair. “We lure the kids in with basketball and teach them other skills. It’s also a great way to bring our community together.”
The Blair Charity Group has reached thousands of kids in the Tucson community. While basketball remains at the center of the charity group, Blair takes pride in the well-rounded education the camps provide for the children.
“We try to instill in them different leadership lessons and teach them things that can help them grow,” said Blair. “We have speakers come in to different camps and clinics to teach them different things from financial responsibility to health and wellness, educational planning and even social media responsibility, so, things that they’re dealing with on a day-to-day level. We try to talk to them on their level in order to help them become productive members of society, which is the ultimate goal.”
Blair says he got the inspiration to start the Blair Charity Group when he saw the impact the Harlem Globetrotter basketball camps had on the kids.
“I thought, ‘there has to be a way to replicate this in Tucson and do it without charging the kids,’” said Blair. “When you think about it, no one is sending their kid to a Harlem Globetrotter camp to learn the best basketball skills, they’re sending their kid to have a good time, to enjoy it, to be socially active.”
Blair remembers as a kid not being able to go to basketball camps, and wanted to be able to provide free-of-charge opportunities that he was not afforded.
“I’m all about this community,” said Blair. “It’s such a surreal experience for me because for the last five years I’ve been in Tucson and been watching the Arizona basketball program from afar and now I’m involved with the program and can see what it means to the community.”
Through his involvement with the Blair Charity Group and Arizona basketball, Blair is carving out quite an imprint on the Tucson community.
For more information or to donate to the Blair Charity Group, visit blaircharitygroup.org.