When standout center Joseph Blair left the Arizona Wildcats basketball team 17 years ago, he wasn't on the best of terms.
With Arizona. And, as the years went on, with himself.
Blair, who has become an undergraduate assistant for the Wildcats, was ineligible for his final semester in 1995-96. Undaunted at the time, he became the 35th pick in that year's NBA Draft and went on to a successful 13-year career overseas.
But Blair never did finish that degree. That bit at him, even as Blair returned to Tucson following his 2009 retirement and built up community equity via charity work.
"The way I left, I carried a lot of guilt for years," Blair said Tuesday, after UA announced his hiring. "I left (UA) basketball with a pretty bad taste in my mouth."
Blair founded the Blair Charity Group, creating and supporting programs in Southern Arizona, and said he hoped that the goodwill he was creating offset the manner in which he left Arizona.
He also says now, by giving back to the Wildcats on the court while working to finish his degree, that he hopes to further change any negative feeling.
There's no doubt UA coach Sean Miller sees it as a positive. Miller, who already hired former UA star Damon Stoudamire as an assistant coach in May, reached out to Blair this year to see if he would be interested in the position.
"He's an invaluable resource for our players because, like Damon, he had great success here, he left here and he had a long career in Europe," Miller said. "And with our frontcourt players in particular, there's nothing like having somebody who's big and physical to go against.
"The benefits are two fold: It allows him to get that degree and to impact this team for one year."
The two had discussed an undergraduate role before, but schedules and red tape made it difficult. But this summer, it worked.
Blair will receive a scholarship to attend classes and will return the favor by helping out the basketball program.
As an undergraduate assistant, Blair is technically a manager of sorts. He can't recruit and perform many coaching duties, but he can be on the court and work with the players.
In Blair's case, working with the players is a literal thing, too. Blair said his role is a combination of talking to and working out directly on the floor against the Wildcats.
All 6 feet 10 inches, 265 pounds of him.
Imagine how sophomore 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski will deal with that every day.
"I told Kaleb, 'I'm 265 pounds - you're not going to face anybody as big as me. So if you can handle that, you'll be OK,'" Blair said.
Blair said he hopes to help all of the Wildcats in some way, but Miller said his expertise as a professional big man will be invaluable to Tarczewski and the other UA post players.
"With the day-in, day-out grind of the college basketball season, it's great to have somebody with the size and experience that he has," Miller said. "With Kaleb, you can really go at a basket for 20 or 30 minutes and get live repetitions against somebody who's as big and physical as J.B. is. Obviously, the knowledge that somebody like him has accumulated throughout his career, he can share with somebody like Kaleb."
Blair said he needs four more classes to finish a degree in general studies, while he is also interested in taking some other upper-level courses. He will be with the Wildcats all season, and Miller said he would be involved fully in practices, games and travel.
A degree will allow Blair to pursue a coaching career if he wants to, but he was noncommittal about whether he might do so. The main thing: He can if he wants to, since college coaching jobs often require college degrees.
"It opens up more options," Blair said, "and I always tell kids, 'The more options you have, the more chance you have to be successful.'"
A native of Houston, the 39-year-old Blair averaged 10.4 points and 6.5 rebounds for the Wildcats from 1993-96, helping lead Arizona to a pair of Pac-10 titles and an appearance in the 1994 Final Four.
The Seattle SuperSonics drafted him in 1996, and he later began a pro career that included stops in France, Italy, Turkey and Greece. Blair was named to the Italian IA All-Star Game in 2000. 2005 and 2006, and was the Turkish League's import player of the year in 2003.
Since retiring in 2009, Blair returned to Tucson and became involved with a number of business interests while raising three kids.
Now he's adding full-time studies and a basketball job to it all.
After 17 years away from McKale Center, he's more than OK with it.
"It's a great opportunity," Blair said. "I'm excited about it, the chance to work with a program that I care dearly about."
• During a news conference Thursday, Miller said the status of Kansas transfer Zach Peters remains uncertain. Peters is still not cleared for full contact in practices - after having suffered multiple concussions at Kansas last year - and the NCAA has not yet ruled on his request to waive the standard redshirt season for transfers. Miller said Arizona expected to hear about the NCAA waiver within a month or so, and that the UA is proceeding with caution on Peters, a 6-foot-10 sophomore.
• UA also formally announced the addition of forward Chris Johnson, Nick's older brother, to the team Thursday. Also, Miller said David Miller (no relation) has been made a graduate manager after serving as an undergraduate manager for the last three seasons.