CRAWFORD | Wayne's World: At long last, Blackshear getting the last word
Louisville senior Wayne Blackshear has saved some of his best for last -- leading the Cardinals in scoring in their past two postseason games and getting the last word on some who have criticized him during his career.
Saturday, March 21st 2015, 8:44 pm EDT by
Saturday, March 21st 2015, 8:47 pm EDT
SEATTLE (WDRB) — The question fired up quick reaction from Louisville fans. A reporter (and not one from Louisville) asked Wayne Blackshear after Friday's NCAA Tournament wins how he's dealt with all of the criticism during his years in Louisville.
Blackshear, as usual, answered the question correctly. He said he doesn't pay attention to it. Even Cardinals coach Rick Pitino jumped in after it was asked:
“I want to interject something on that question,” he said. “It's very easy to criticize, it's very easy. It takes no talent at all to criticize. But the coaching staff, every coach that's coached Wayne Blackshear, thinks he's the greatest kid in the world, thinks he's one of the hardest workers. So we have never one time criticized him. We all think we have been tremendously blessed by his presence at the University Of Louisville. So it takes no talent to be a critic.”
Some Cardinal fans didn't like that it was even asked. But they can't pretend it wasn't without a basis in reality. After a potential game winning three-pointer Blackshear took at North Carolina didn't fall, the criticism of him following that game was more biting than for any player I've ever been around in Louisville. Social media, talk radio, you name it. I won't post the screen shots or quote anyone I heard the next day in various places.
For my part, I haven't been able to be very critical of him. He's too nice a guy. He came to U of L with his academics in question and wound up an academic All-American. I remember going on talk radio the day after that game and defending him, after I'd heard some of the things being said,
People forget some of the things he did, even before he has played big in the past few weeks. While Michigan's Trey Burke was scoring the first seven points to get the Wolverines off to a hot start in the 2013 NCAA title game, Blackshear scored the first five four Louisville to steady the Cardinals.
Blackshear's biggest problem was being named Chicago high school player of the year over a guy named Anthony Davis. When that happens, people expect things. He suffered a shoulder injury before he ever got to Louisville, and another one after that injury healed. Luke Hancock played ahead of him for two years, and become one of the most popular players in the program's recent history.
He could've had a bad attitude when Hancock heated up and started to get more minutes. He never did. He accepted his role. He stayed positive. He was a phenom out of high school, but did not come with the kind of ego that often entails.
In the locker room after the championship game, Blackshear told me, “If you play here, your moment is going to come.”
Blackshear is averaging 1.1 points a game fewer this season than Hancock did last season, but 1.8 rebounds more. He has 40 fewer assists. But he hasn't made the signature shots in big games that Hancock did. Until Friday night, when he drove the lane, took the ball up and over UC Irvine's 7-6 Mamadou Ndiaye, and found a way to make the shot drop before being slammed to the court.
Blackshear has been making big plays down the stretch for U of L this season. He's led the Cards with 18.5 points in its two postseason games.
And while people keep asking him about criticism, he has a corps of supporters that may well be larger than his group of detractors, just perhaps not as vocal.
“It's good that you have people on your side when, I guess, other people are talking about you,” Blackshear said Saturday. “I don't pay no attention to it, but it's great that people care about you.”
And it's good that Blackshear has gotten the last word in a way. And that the word has been a positive one.
If not for him, I'd be writing about Morehead State II today, not about Louisville getting ready to face Northern Iowa.
Blackshear, after that win, now has played in 100 U of L wins. Only 14 other Cardinals have done that. As a senior captain, his team has won 25 games.
In his time at U of L, the Cardinals have been out of the AP Top 25 for only three weeks. Only Darrell Griffith and Tony Branch can say the same about their careers.
During Blackshear's career, the Cardinals are 27-6 in the month of March. He had 18 points in the Cardinals' ACC Tournament loss to North Carolina. He had 19 in their tournament win Friday.
He's two points shy of 1,000. And a couple of rebounds shy of 400.
“He's had a great career,” teammate Terry Rozier said. “He's a guy who leads by example. He does the right things, is there for guys on the team. Look who gets on the floor. Look who gets on the floor in practice. In this game, you can't worry about what people say. Everybody on this team looks up to Wayne.”
So does his coach.
“You know, I guess I don't — I'm not around you guys all the time, but I never hear you criticize Wayne,” Pitino said to the media. “So when I hear things like this, I'm not sure who is criticizing. It's obviously probably some fans who call in or write in, whatever that is. But all of you who have covered Wayne understand what a gentleman he is, understand how humble he is.
“Wayne decided when he came here that he's going to fit into whatever the coaches asked him to do. Now we have asked him this year, look, we want you to drive more, paint touch more and that's just in the last two months. We don't want you just spotting up. We want you rebounding more, paint touching more, getting to the free-throw line. He's done all of that. He's had a terrific year. So, I guess he came out with such a great reputation of high school. . . . He's a young man that has been part of three 30-win seasons, a National Championship, two Final Fours, three conference championships. I don't know how many people can win more than him. And now he just had a great game yesterday and when we needed him, when our two best players weren't scoring much.”
During Blackshear's senior night news conference, they asked him what things he'll remember most, and he remembered the championship game, and he mentioned Montrezl Harrell's iconic dunk that gave the Cardinals the lead after they'd been down 12.
What he didn't mention was something I remembered. Blackshear got the steal that led to that dunk. Hancock deflected the ball, and Blackshear hustled to the ball, and scooped it ahead to Peyton Siva, who lobbed it to Harrell for the dunk.
I said to him, “You didn't mention that you had the steal that led to that dunk.”
He said, “I wasn't going to say anything.”
All this time, Blackshear hasn't said anything. I don't know if most of us could manage that, given what has come Blackshear's way. The wisdom to ignore it. The maturity to leave it alone if you do hear it. Most of us who are twice Blackshear's age don't conduct ourselves with half the grace.
If you play here, your moment will come.
For those of us who have been around him for four years, it's been good to see those things come to pass for Blackshear, at least in a small way.
Whenever he plays his final game, he'll leave a championship legacy — in more ways than one.
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