Blair shrugs off return to bench

By Monty Phan

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Joseph Blair could live with losing his starting job. After all, he's said time and time again that it's the team that matters, not really who starts.

If backup Ben Davis won the starting position by outplaying Blair, then that'd be fine. But that's not what happened. Instead, Davis landed the job when Blair landed on his foot.

And now Blair is back on the bench, a spectator, not a starter.

Perhaps "back on the bench" needs to be qualified. It's not like Blair is not a proven starter. That, he is. It's that Blair is a proven talker, too, and when Lute Olson is the coach, that's not always a good thing.

In fact, Blair found the correct way to get on Olson's bad side last December, when he served a two-game suspension for violating academic team policy. But in the "family" spirit Blair attributes to the team, he likened it to being grounded. He was basically sent to his room. The one at the end of the bench. No dinner, no dessert.

"I'll always say this, whether you're playing or not, it's family," Blair said. "If your mom or dad grounds you, you're still part of the family. As far as I was concerned, I was grounded, but I'm still part of my family.

"These are my brothers, I'm going to support them in everything they do. If they win, I'm still going to consider that I won part of the game, if we lose I'm going to hang my head down just like everybody else because we lost.

"We win as a team, we lose as a team."

Though Blair has played the obedient child much of the season, the parent in Olson has instilled a philosophy on the team that does not readily foster backtalk. Guard Reggie Geary has talked about being in the Olson doghouse, a feeling Blair can definitely relate to. Trouble is, the way out is sometimes a mystery.

"I'm not sure what you can do. I don't know what you can do once you get in there," Blair said. "I was in there for quite some time. I think I'm still standing in the doorway, I'm not completely out myself.

"You just have to grin and bear it and remember he's the one who puts you in the game. He has your career in his hands pretty much, so just agree with him. That's the only advice I ever give to anybody, don't argue with Coach Olson."

Geary agreed.

"Coach likes his players to be quiet," Geary said. "That's understandable, it's his program."

Blair said, however, the difference between he and Geary is the difference between, well, California and Texas. When it comes to family, it's the real one in Houston that instilled the discipline for the surrogate one in Tucson.

"I think the big difference is I come from Texas, where if you don't say 'Yes, sir,' you have to learn," Blair said. "So I'm used to saying 'Yes, sir' all the time. Whether I agree or not or if I hear him or not, I just say, 'Yes, sir.' It's just something you have to get used to, especially at this school."

While Blair may be limited to occasional "Yes, sir"'s on the court, off the court is a different story. Quite simply, he likes to talk. There is one way to shut him up, however. Just call him "Joe."

"My mother named me Joseph. If somebody calls you 'Asshole' you're not going to go by 'Asshole,' you're going to go by what your name is," Blair said. "Mine is not 'Joe,' it's 'Joseph.'"

Or, "JB," as many people also call him. And in case you forget, there's a tattoo right on his stomach to remind you. In fact, there are three other tattoos: "Baby Blair" on his right arm, a bull with a basketball on his left, and a basketball going through a hoop on his chest.

"All of them have something that mean something to me or motivate me in some way," Blair said. "A lot of people think I'm a walking billboard, but each one of mine means something. If people don't understand I really don't give a damn because it's not for them, it's for me."

Blair also explained his relationship with Davis how his teammate has also been his toughest competitor. Because of Davis, Blair has improved from last season, mostly because there's someone waiting in the wings if he screws up.

"I've had people on talk shows call and say, 'Yeah, how's your relationship with Ben?' like we hate each other because we play the same position," Blair said. "That's not true at all. If that was the case then we'd have a lot of people on the team hating each other. If Ben goes in and scores 30 points and gets the winning bucket I don't care. We won. I'm still going to have a ring on my finger."

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