It has been a whirlwind week for Joseph Blair, who achieved a goal he set for himself after a short stint as a graduate assistant under Sean Miller from 2013-15.
Before, you could call him former Arizona Wildcats and professional basketball center Joseph Blair.
And then with his meaningful work as director of the Blair Charity Group in Tucson, you could call him community activist Joseph Blair.
Now, you can call him Coach Joseph Blair, as in the head coach of the Houston Rockets’ G-League affiliate, the Rio Grande (Texas) Valley Vipers.
“I’m ecstatic with this opportunity,” Blair messaged me yesterday amid his busy schedule preparing for the upcoming season. “When I first got into coaching, under Sean Miller, it was just to finish up school and help out my alma mater. But something amazing happened, I fell in love with coaching.”
Right after his time with Miller’s staff, Blair set out to hone his skills to become a head coach. He joined former Catalina Foothills standout and Arizona player Matt Brase — Lute Olson’s grandson — as part of Rio Grande’s staff. Brase had worked his way to head coach there after joining the Rockets’ personnel development and scouting department in the 2011-12 season.
When Blair was part of Miller’s staff, he served with former teammate Damon Stoudamire, who became Pacific’s head coach two years ago. Between 2013-15, Arizona went 67-9 overall and 31-5 in the Pac-12 (winning the conference title both years).
Of his time with Miller, Blair said to the McAllen (Texas) Monitor: “I’ve always been a defensive-minded player, but being under Sean Miller, he is a very defensive-minded coach. The goal there every year is to be in the top five of defensive teams in college. Learning his terminologies, the way he sees things and his vision of the court, he is a basketball genius. It is hard to be around someone really smart and not become more intelligent; same thing with basketball.”
The Wildcats advanced to the Elite Eight both seasons with players such as Nick Johnson, Aaron Gordon, T.J. McConnell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Stanley Johnson, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski.
“The camaraderie with the team and the competition of the games were everything that I missed from my playing days,” mentioned Blair, one of Olson’s most fundamentally sound post players who helped the Wildcats reach the Final Four in 1994. “It became my opportunity to pass down wisdom that I had gained through my years of playing. Now, I pull from the years of being coached by many great and diverse coaches.
“I look to take all the positives I have seen and implement them while discarding everything that I felt was ineffective for myself or my teammates. It’s a new chapter of my life that I look forward to with enthusiasm and divine optimism!”
Blair ended his message to me with the hashtag: #TheVeganCoach
Still an imposing figure at 6-foot-10 and 265 pounds with a bold beard, Blair, a 13-year pro overseas who hails from nearby Houston, looks like he can still play. He certainly will get the attention of his Rio Grande players.
More promising news for Blair: Every former Vipers coach has gone on to an NBA bench job or another head coaching position.