CRAWFORD | Blackshear's latest comments don't match the reality - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Blackshear's latest comments don't match the reality of the past four years

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AP photo. AP photo.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Wayne Blackshear is one of the good guys. Don’t let anyone tell you any differently — not even me.

That’s not the theme of this column. Blackshear persevered through a serious shoulder injury in his first season at the University of Louisville, then persevered through some frustrating times before saving his best for last as a Cardinal senior.

The way he ended his career, reaching the 1,000-point mark and coming up big in the NCAA Tournament, put a positive ending on a sometimes mercurial career. Here's my recap of his time at U of L.

But with some comments made to the Chicago Tribune last week, Blackshear may have poured cold water on the good feelings that attended his departure.

Blackshear, who is playing as a free-agent summer league signee of the San Antonio Spurs, was asked by his hometown paper about his college career, in light of his outstanding prep career in Chicago.

Blackshear told the newspaper this: “I sacrificed my game a lot at Louisville for team success. I tried to fit in too much. I really couldn’t show what I could do. I don’t regret it. I won a national championship. Played in two Final Fours and scored more than 1,000 points in my career. But I wasn’t myself.”

And then there was this: “Going through everything I did at Louisville made me a stronger person. Playing for coach Pitino … it was tough. He wants to get the best out of you. He pushed me to new heights and made me a tougher person. But I believe I should have had more opportunities to show what I could do. I had to become a spot-up shooter in college — that’s not me. I learned to keep my mouth shut and keep moving forward.”

Blackshear was an Academic All-American who earned a degree in communications.

Clearly, he didn’t earn a degree in history, because this is a rather blatant attempt to revise it.

Blackshear had every opportunity to show what he could do. He played his entire senior season on a team dying for an offensive go-to player. He didn’t become that player until late in the season — after almost two years of Rick Pitino prodding him to become more physical, to mix it up in the lane, to get to the rim, to get to the free-throw line.

It’s hard to remember a player with more opportunity for heroism at U of L over a four-year career than Blackshear. With 14 seconds left and Louisville trailing Kentucky by two in the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2014, Blackshear went to the free-throw line and missed the first, then made the second. One second later, with U of L  forced to foul, UK freshman Julius Randle went to the line with his team up one and made a pair.

I don’t need to roll back the tape. Moreover, I don’t want to roll back the tape. When the team needed him more than ever, with Chris Jones left home for breaking team rules on a trip to Syracuse, Blackshear went 0-for-2 from the field, finished with 0 points, 0 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 turnovers while fouling out in 19 minutes played.

That’s not a player not being given an opportunity. That’s a player not seizing the opportunity.

Just a jump shooter? Pitino criticized Blackshear for the better part of two seasons for settling for jump shots.

This from a Rick Pitino news conference on March 3 of this past season: “I basically stop play in practice every time (Blackshear) catches the basketball on a reverse pass and he doesn’t drive a close out. He gets tired of me. I’ll say ‘Why didn’t you drive there? There was no double-team. They were closing out on you.’ So he’s getting in the habit of knowing what I want in terms of driving close outs and I don’t want him driving baseline. I want him driving middle. He’s starting to pick it up now. He’s still not where I want him, but he’s starting to pick it up much better.

“I think he’s become a much better ball handler this year than other times. I don’t think he could go left very well, now he goes left very well. I think he worked very hard this summer on his ball handling. He’s got great size. He scored every which way last game. Drives, jump shots, mid-range shots, post-ups. And that’s what you want to see him do. Not rely on just a jump shot.”

Those are the things Pitino spent four years wanting from Blackshear. If he became a spot-up shooter, it was by choice.

Better that Blackshear let his outstanding finish speak for itself than to start looking for excuses for why he didn’t live up to his high school hype. Let no one forget, Blackshear started in front of Luke Hancock his entire sophomore season, even though Hancock was more productive.

Nor did Blackshear achieve the kind of physical conditioning that was asked of him until his senior year.

High school hype is just that, hype. The McDonald’s All-American label is nice, but it is no guarantee. Ask Aaron Harrison.

Blackshear’s comments sound like a guy who believes that hype is still true. They were ill-advised, and showed a kind of disconnect with reality that won’t help Blackshear in his goal of reaching the NBA.

The actual reality: The four years of chances Blackshear got at U of L likely are the best chance he’ll ever get to show what he can do. In two summer league games with the Spurs, he’s averaging 7 minutes, 3 1/2 shots and two points per game.

I like Blackshear. He’s one of the best guys to come through the U of L program in my time covering it. I urged patience with him — in print — when people were ready to bail after he couldn’t get a potential game-winner to fall at North Carolina.

What he did against Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament, throwing up at halftime and still playing brilliantly, will never be forgotten around here, nor will his classy demeanor for four years.

I hope he succeeds. I’d love to see him make an NBA roster. But these most recent comments? They don’t jibe at all with the way things here, and they don’t serve any useful purpose for Blackshear.

Copyright 2014 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.

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