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    Rick Pitino and Wayne Blackshear had “a long talk” in the offseason, according to the University of Louisville men’s basketball coach.

    During their conversation Pitino told the swingman from Chicago that he was one of the most pleasant players he’d ever coached. However, the coach said, he challenged Blackshear to improve his work ethic and change his personality heading into his senior season. In essence what Pitino wanted to see out of Blackshear was no more Mr. Nice Guy.

    “He was upset at me for telling him he’s got to work harder and I said, ‘Look son, I haven’t enjoyed coaching anybody (more),’” Pitino recalled. “‘You and Peyton Siva, you’re about as good as it gets in coaching. You’re just a nice person, but right now that old adage of nice guys finish last is going to happen to you. Your hourglass of sand is running out, and you’ve just got to be aggressive. You’ve got to be mean and tough. You’ve got to be Chicago tough, where you’re from. It’s your year, it’s your senior year, all I want you to do is just be aggressive, whatever that takes.’”

    Blackshear’s first three years have been earmarked by injuries and inconsistency, but he’s determined to return to the form that made him a McDonald’s All-American in the Class of 2011, which featured current NBA contributors Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bradley Beal, Michael Carter-Williams and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

    “I’m going to have to be the old Wayne, I’m going to show that,” Blackshear said in April after being named a team captain for this season. “I’m going to put it out there that I’m going to come back just crazy next year.”

    Blackshear averaged 32.6 points, 14.6 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 3.7 steals his senior year at Morgan Park High School, where his coach called him “Superman.” However it was during that McDonald’s All-American game that he ran into what would be his kryptonite - a shoulder injury.

    The injury sidelined him for much of the preseason, then when he did return (albeit with the “freshman 15”) he suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder in practice. It was initially feared that he would miss the entire 2011-12 season, but he healed quicker than expected and made his season debut in the Cards’ 25th game, scoring 13 points at West Virginia. Blackshear ended the season, in which he averaged 2.5 points in 15 games, on a high note. He tallied nine points - two on this dunk - and four rebounds in UofL’s 69-61 loss to archrival Kentucky in the Final Four.

    As a sophomore Blackshear averaged 7.6 points and 3.1 rebounds during the Cards’ national championship season. Despite starting 34 games, though, Blackshear scored in double figures in only 10 games (his season-high 19 points came off the bench at Rutgers).

    Last season Blackshear’s hot-and-cold play continued. He averaged 8.2 points and 3.1 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field - including 39.5 percent from 3-point range - and 74.4 percent from the free throw line. His season was highlighted by a 23-point effort in the Cards’ 91-52 win over Houston on Jan. 16. However in Louisville’s season-ending loss to archrival Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 16, he tallied just three points off the bench in 17 minutes.

    “My issue was consistency,” Blackshear said. “I don’t think I was consistent enough. I showed flashes of being that player (I used to be) sometimes, but then I’d fade away. At times I knew I was playing bad so I was just trying to force a lot of stuff. I was very indecisive on a lot of things I wanted to do (too). I think it kind of dropped my confidence a little bit.”

    A couple of weeks after that loss to the Wildcats, Pitino named Blackshear team captain, a move that was likely part motivating tool for a player who hasn’t quite lived up to his high school hype.

    “Coach told me I’ve got to be a workhorse,” Blackshear said the day he was officially introduced as a team captain. “I’ve showed it at times, but I think he wants me to show it more consistently. He just wants to see me be the player that I used to be. That’s all up on me, it’s all up to me if i want to be that player again, I think I’m about to take that challenge on.

    “It starts in practice … My main focus this year is to be in attack mode 24-7. I’ve been around here for four years now, going on fourth year, I’ll have to play my butt off.”

    In preparation for this season Blackshear remained in Louisville this summer instead of heading home to the Windy City.

    “I stayed here because I knew this was my last go-round so I had to really stay in the gym every day, non-stop, just getting my confidence back. I had to work my way back into Wayne Blackshear-mode,” Blackshear said at UofL’s recent media day. “I just stayed in the gym constantly, didn’t take no days off, and just wanted to get accomplished what I wanted to do to myself to get better. I just wanted to show everybody what I really can do and that I’m not just a spot-up shooter.”

    Early returns have been good.

    “I think we got the high school Wayne,” senior point guard Chris Jones said. “He’s crashing the boards, shooting the ball well, going through the lane more. I love the new Wayne Blackshear.”

    In UofL’s first Red-White scrimmage last week, Blackshear scored 20 points and snared a team-high 11 rebounds in his Red team’s 75-72 loss to the White. He was 9 for 20 from the field, including 2 of 4 from 3-point range, and 0 of 1 from the free throw line while also dishing out a team-high tying four assists and recording one steal in 39 minutes of action.

    “He stayed here the entire summer, worked non-stop on his shot, worked on his ball-handling, worked like he should have worked,” Pitino said afterward. “And he’s getting the fruits of his labor right now, because he looks very, very good out there.”

    And, he’s taking his coach’s advice to heart.

    “I’ve just got to find that dog mentality that I used to have,” Blackshear said. 

    Opponents beware this season because for Wayne Blackshear it’s no more Mr. Nice Guy.

    Photo courtesy of University of Louisville Men’s Basketball Facebook Page

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