Texas A&M women's coach Gary Blair, left, and Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer worked together for 15 years. (Photo by David J. Phillip, AP)
It's going to be like a family reunion tonight at Humphrey Coliseum.
When the women's basketball coaching staffs of Mississippi State and Texas A&M get together for tonight's Southeastern Conference matchup, it will be a chance to renew acquaintances and compete against each other at the same time.
Starting at the top, Texas A&M head coach Gary Blair and MSU's Vic Schaefer coached together on the bench for 15 years. The two also coached together at Arkansas.
Blair and Schaefer helped the Aggies and Razorbacks to 11 NCAA Tournament appearances, while Texas A&M claimed two Big 12 Tournament championships (2008 and 2011), the Big 12 regular season title in 2007 and the NCAA national crown in the school's first-ever appearance in the Women's Final Four in 2011.
Schaefer values the knowledge he's gained from Blair.
"You don't work for a Hall of Fame coach 15 years and not learn something," Schaefer said. "It's different when you've been with someone 15 years. We won 333 games together in those 15 years. We had a lot of success. We won some championships and won one real big one (national championship in 2011). We've had some good times together both on and off the court."
Blair said he is looking forward to the opportunity to see how his former coaches and players are doing surrounding the 7 p.m. tipoff in Starkville.
When it comes to coaching against Schaefer, Blair wants it to be known that it will be easier than meeting him on the golf course.
"I'd rather play him on the basketball court than the golf course," Blair said of Schaefer. "He's better than I am on the golf course."
Not only will Blair see Schaefer again, but also Aqua Franklin, Johnnie Harris and Maryann Baker. They are former players and coaches who have joined Schaefer's staff with the Bulldogs.
"You are not usually going to a place and see four of them all sitting on the bench down the way," Blair said. "The biggest thing a head coach can have is a family tree of former players and former coaches, who are head coaches, or former players, who are in coaching.
"(Baker and Franklin) are there and they meant a whole lot to our program. You sit here and look at Johnnie Harris and the great job she did for us here as one of the best recruiters in the country, one of the best coaches and one of the best momma figures to all of the players. She helped me solves problems over the years. It's invaluable what they've been able to do for this program.
"Eventually, you've got to say thank you and it's time for you to go on to your next job, the next place and try to move up that ladder. That's what all of them are trying to do."
It's not the first time Blair and Schaefer have coached against each other.
Blair remembers the time when his Stephen F. Austin team was almost beaten at home by Schaefer's Sam Houston State squad.
With that to consider, Blair won't be entering Humphrey Coliseum with the thought it's going to be easy for the Aggies, who enter the matchup with records of 14-5 overall and 4-1 in the league.
"On paper, I've got the better team, but paper doesn't win games," Blair said. "The difference for this game is our kids will be fired up out of respect for that coaching staff and for what they did. We're going to come in there and play Mississippi State like we would play a Kentucky or Tennessee. That's respect."
Schaefer is familiar with the Texas A&M personnel, including junior Kelsey Bone, who averages a double-double with 17.9 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.
"It will certainly be a little different (tonight), but we'll be playing against A&M and those kids," Schaefer said. "Obviously, I know those kids well and helped recruit them, Johnnie and I both, so it's going to be a unique deal."
Mississippi State may have records of 8-10 overall and 1-5 in the SEC, but Blair expects the Bulldogs to play much better than their record.
"We're going to get their best game," Blair said. "They've been off a week before playing us. I'm sure they are getting healthier and the (Kendra) Grant kid is having a great year and (Martha) Alwal is one of the best post players in the league."
Grant leads MSU by scoring 12.7 points per game, while Alwal is averaging 11.6 points and 9.5 rebounds per outing.
Even though the Bulldogs have yet to win in the SEC, Schaefer said the goal is to become better each day and that Wednesday was one of those days where they did improve.
"We had a real good day and you continue to lay the wood so to speak," Schaefer said. "We are laying a foundation and we won't be finished laying a foundation around here for a few years. It's just teaching kids how to play hard and how to compete. These young ladies are wonderful. We just continue to teach them on and off the court."
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