It’s basketball season at Texas A&M—at last. And, everyone’s favorite class, Basketball 101, gathered those who love Texas Aggie women’s basketball Monday night at Reed Arena. Over 150 community residents arrived early and stayed late for an evening hosted by Coach Gary Blair and his staff and players, who welcomed each visitor as family with an inside look into the world of Texas A&M women’s basketball.
The annual event was held in the excellent Cox-McFerrin Center inside Reed Arena on Texas A&M’s west campus tonight for Basketball 101. After registering and being welcomed by Claudia Walker, Coach Blair’s executive assistant, members of the Aggie Angels basketball group escorted you into the practice gym to help you find friends, old and new, all of whom were excited to be there. As the crowd filed in, the members of the women’s basketball team welcomed back some longtime friends; hugs were shared all around.
First-year players greeted visitors as graciously as the sophomores, juniors and seniors, who’d already been through this drill in years past. Some new arrivals to Aggieland overcame innate shyness to visit with the crowd. This was the first opportunity for several players to experience that sense of family that gather in Reed on game days. Earlier that morning, Coach Blair had shared his goals for tonight’s event with the team and coached them on how to interact, just as he does for game days. That’s the sign of a good coach, to always prepare his team for anything that’s upcoming.
The catered dinner was provided by Buppy’s Catering, the lines moved fast and the tables filled quickly. The meal proved a time of great social activity as many longtime fans shared exciting tidbits from their travels to cheer on the team in Italy this past summer. That’s right—Italy! Aggie fans are among the best anywhere and where the Aggie women go, so go the faithful fans.
Paula Wyble and Brenda Terral are two enthusiasts who have logged almost as many miles as the players and their trip to Italy this summer was likely as much fun for the players as for the fans. When Wyble and Terral arrived in Italy, they said, “Coach Blair assigned all of us a player to be our host. We had the chance to have quality one-on-one time with them and watch how they practiced and prepared for the game.” You can only imagine what it meant for the players to have people from “here” care enough about them to take the time and spend the money to show their true maroon spirit.
Two of the special celebrity guests present were BVTM’s Barbara Smith and Michael Oder (running the camera to capture all the excitement of the evening). Their delightful presence was a strong show of ongoing KBTX enthusiasm and support for women’s basketball, and later, the duo would prove to be a great source of fun (at their expense) for Coach Blair.
After dinner the crowd broke up into seven separate groups, each hosted by two Aggie Angels who were, just that, guiding everyone up and down and around the floors of the Cox-McFerrin Center to their stations. First stop for our group was Sports Medicine, hosted by Mike Ricke. It’s not surprising that “Radar,” as he’s affectionately known, is premier at what he does. He’s been looking after Aggie basketball athletes since the days of Shelby Metcalf. The father of three daughters of his own, Radar demonstrated how he was able to stress communication at all times in keeping up with the players’ strengths and weaknesses.
Radar said that male athletes tended to withhold a lot of information on any injuries they might have incurred during a game, as in “I’m fine, I’m fine” being the only information he could garner. Ricke said that women athletes were on the opposite end of the spectrum as they would talk—in great detail—about how they were handling pain or any possible injury. Two of the Aggie players were on the sports medicine tables so that Ricke could demonstrate some of the equipment used to treat injuries.
Three different hydro-whirlpools were in close proximity, with one temperature set at 92°F, one at 102°F and one at 48°F, depending on which muscle groups needed attention. By the end of the eight-minute session, you knew that these women were being taken care of in a thoroughly professional, calm and patient way, which any parent would be delighted to know.
Next stop was Officiating, with NCAA referee, Scotty Herman. Herman and Gary Blair enjoy great repartee, especially now since the Aggies are out of Herman’s current coaching conference. Herman explained the role of an official in instructing a coach how to follow the rules during regulation play. There was much laughter as he acted out how he spoke to the coach for a ‘first’ infraction of stepping outside the coaching box on the sidelines. Herman called it, “a friendly reminder.” The second infraction gained a bit more information to share with the coach, “Now, Coach, this is your second reminder that you must stay in your official area.”
The third visit back to the Coach would be an instant technical call and two free throw shots for the other team. In the exhibition game, the coach from the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith “earned” a technical call for some histrionics aimed at the ref. There’s about zero tolerance for sidelines shenanigans.
Herman also instructed the crowd to watch some of the Big 12 games on TV and watch for the calls that are surely to happen throughout the season. Histrionics are also grounds for a technical, so there’s a certain foul-tempered coach or two who are known for removing their jackets and tossing them in protest of calls. Great fun is in store—the more you know.
Third course for this group was Defense, led by Coach Bob Starkey in his inaugural season with the Aggies, just in time for their SEC debut year. Starkey wrote the book, literally, on defense and is noted for his key insight and ability to bring the best from post players. Texas A&M coaches are delighted to have Starkey on board as he was integral to “LSU’s garnering four SEC Championships and 12 straight NCAA tournament appearances.” Starkey was intelligent, confident and kind in his instructions of the various defensive formations and shared with the group how to spot the different types. Then he asked for four volunteers.
Within ten seconds, four ladies took the court and Starkey assigned each a key position, paired with an Aggie player. After telling the players which way they should move, Starkey instructed one 5’6” player to move toward the basket; her zone guard shifted to covering another player. And, as the volunteer moved three steps closer toward the basket she encountered…Rachel Mitchell, with her arms up over the her head of her defender, providing substantial coverage of the basket.
Rachel just looked down at her would-be opponent and smiled so sweetly that the shooter just handed her the ball and said, “okay, here, you take it!” Everyone laughed. Coach Starkey has this group ready to play serious defense by-the-book, something he knows well. A journalism major in college, Starkey is a prolific writer, including several books, one of which is“The Art of Being an Assistant Coach.”
The next session was Pre-Game Warm-Up with Coach Jen Jones, who heads strength and conditioning. There’s undoubtedly a most special spirit about Jen, whose gracious smile welcomed volunteers to participate in an eight-minute version of the same warm-up the players do before their workouts. Jones demonstrated the moves, a full-body workout that reminded observers of a P90-X routine with basketball specialties.
Challenged by the group who volunteered, without urging, to participate in the warm-up exercises, the workout seemed challenging but painless, until awakening the next morning, only to find that it hurt to move in any direction. Those Aggie women are in very good shape, thanks to Jen Jones’ workout program. If Jones ever decides to train the general public, they would do well to rush to sign up to get in shape under her expert tutelage.
The group moved next to Recruiting, to meet Amy Wright, the second new hire to the Aggie program. Wright is an energetic dynamo who earned four letters playing for Coach Gary Blair when he was at Arkansas and also had the pleasure of learning from Coach Kelly Bond-White as well. Wright shared her excitement about being at Texas A&M and informed the group about commitments to the Aggies by sought-after high school seniors.
Wright is prolific in social media and she’s on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all the time; which means Texas A&M’s presence on the web is equally prolific. Wright credits Coach Kelly Bond-White with being a recruiting inspiration and is pleased to be working with her once again.
One important thing to watch for is: change is coming to Reed Arena, in a positive, visual way. Amy Wright notes there is every reason to expect excitement when you walk in and see Reed’s walls in the months ahead. It’s definitely going to look more like a basketball school here. The new “look” was previewed with a tour through the coaches’ office area—the wall murals will blow you away. Texas A&M is now definitely “a basketball school,” no doubt about it.
Next door, we visited with Coach Kelly Bond-White, who led a discussion of the scouting reports, and how her players studied every nuance and detail of their opponent’s play prior to game day. She distributed a preview of the next game’s opponents, with descriptions of each player and their tendencies, strengths and weaknesses, and her players earned 100% in knowing the right answers when she asked.
The crowd delighted in learning which of the new freshmen confessed to favorite pre-game and post-game rituals, and laughed when one (who will remain anonymous to protect her) confessed that she loved McDonald’s cookies and the Great American Cookie Company as her secret fuel source.
One additional highlight was found in reviewing Kelly’s scouting report: player #33.5 is Lauryn Christina White, a point guard early commitment, whose height is 22 inches. She’s Kelly’s newborn daughter and a future member of the Class of 2030. Her stats are sure to be stellar. Just give her a little time.
Coach Gary Blair was in charge of the “Offense Station” and he delighted to call on KBTX-TV morning anchor, Barbara Smith, to demonstrate how to make those shots. Some good friends and longtime Blair fans were in attendance to root her on, members of the Ag Silvers (55+) local women’s basketball team, who dressed in matching t-shirts to show their group’s presence, some 12 strong in the crowd. Judy Heaney invites any women 55+ to check out their web site and call for more information.
When Coach Blair called out “go to the elbow, find the corner,” and other terms, he used the Ag Silvers to demonstrate, because of course they knew where to go. He asked one other newbie attendee, “Do you know where the rack is?” and got her answer, “I have no clue but I’ll go look really hard to find it.” Smiling, the four Aggie women players on the court all pointed to the basket, and guided her in for a correct landing.
More basketball terminology was taught, as Coach Blair gave the group insight into signal calling during the games. He is definitely the style of coach who inspires each player to be their best, so as not to disappoint their leader. No wonder there’s a legion of accolades bestowed upon this leader. The group shows great promise in their debut year in the SEC.
After completing the seven “stations,” the groups gathered in the Lohman Lobby of the Cox-McFerrin Center and enjoyed a happy hour and the chance to visit one-on-one with all the guest speakers. It may be something that could be taken for granted, but it should not.
Every staff member of the women’s basketball program and the entire team was in attendance, helping, smiling and welcoming the group, making sure the Basketball 101 attendees had the most outstanding experience that would fire them up for the rest of the season. Blair’s final words, were as expected: “I want every person here to bring me back two new people to the next game, and then have them become season ticket holders.” That’s pure-D Gary Blair, no doubt about it.
The month ahead: Five more chances to catch the Aggie women at home this month, including two national Top 10 teams back-to-back.
Nov. 14 Penn State
Nov. 18 UConn
Nov. 20 Liberty
Nov. 23 Southern
Nov. 25 Marquette
The following month ahead: Note to those who love Las Vegas—There’s a tournament coming up December 19-21, 2012—the World Vision Classic to be played at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas— just in case any fans might be looking for an excuse to travel and show their support for the Ags in the “bright lights” city! Make your reservations now. Go to AggieAthletics.com for ticket information. Class dismissed!