When Yancy Gates was a freshman at Cincinnati, the coaching staff had him study DVDs of Pitt strongman DeJuan Blair in action. Mick Cronin wanted Yancy to use his bulk like the Pitt All-American did, as Blair averaged 15.7 points and 12.3 rebounds despite being two inches shorter than Gates.
Fast-forward three years later and one of Yancy's classmates at UC was none other than DeJuan's younger brother - Bearcat linebacker Greg Blair.
"I talked to Yancy about that once when we were in class," Greg told me. "He said, 'Man, your brother used to a beast in the Big East.' When Yancy was a freshman, my brother was a sophomore and Yancy said he was too much for him to handle.
"I used to tell my brother that he wasn't going to
be as big as his opponent so he had to outwork him. It's crazy because now, that's what DeJuan
says to me. He says, 'You ain't going to
be the fastest, you ain't going to be the strongest. You just have to outwork your
DeJuan Blair is currently a key member of the San Antonio Spurs, and Greg Blair is emerging as an important part of the Bearcat defense. In recent days he's moved to the top of the depth chart as JK Schaffer's replacement at middle linebacker.
"It was my goal to get with the 'ones,' said Blair. "That was one of my main goals that I wrote down before camp and I achieved it. After position meetings they tell us the rotation and one day they said, 'Blair - you're with the ones.' Now I've got to work to stay there because I know that I could get bumped down just as fast."
"We've really challenged him and he's done a great job," said UC head coach Butch Jones. "He has a long way to go, but he's really watched his weight and shown great diligence in his physical conditioning. Now we're working on his mental conditioning and to get him to play through things when he's tired."
Like his 6'7", 270-pound older brother, Greg Blair is 6'2" and solidly built - a bit too solidly last year after transferring from Lackawanna Community College.
"He puts weight on when he's sweating," joked Coach Jones. "But he's doing a great job. When we get off the field, he's in the weight room riding the bike. He's really shown a commitment level this offseason."
"I don't know what it is with my metabolism," said Blair. "(Strength coach) Dave Lawson says that he's never seen anyone like me. I'll come in and gain seven pounds in one day and then lose eight pounds the next day. I can't control it. That's why I try to watch what I eat and when I eat. I'm 243 right now so I'm in good shape - I just have to maintain it."
The Blair family lived within the shadow of the Pitt campus, so potentially making his first Division I start on September 6th against the Panthers is an exciting prospect for the UC senior.
"That's a huge deal," Greg told me. "I just thank God for the opportunity. If I have the opportunity to start against Pitt, that will be a really emotional day for me."
And not only because Pittsburgh is his hometown.
Last Tuesday, a 25-year-old childhood friend of Greg's named Robert Murphy was shot to death in a Pittsburgh suburb.
"Over the summer when we had a break and I was back home, he was saying that he couldn't wait to see my first game and to be there," said Blair. "He had purchased my customized jersey and it just came in. I have a heavy heart right now and I have to go home for the funeral.
"They said it was a drive-by shooting and he died shortly afterward. It's messed up. He was probably the closest friend that I had - he was one of those friends you just do everything with. It's hard to lose him but you just have to move on."
Staying strong runs in the Blair family.
"He's had some trials and tribulations since he's been here and he's just kept fighting through them," said Coach Jones. "He's shown great perseverance."
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