A decade ago, Texas A&M women’s basketball was in the middle of a season that would end in the program’s first and only national championship, a 76-70 win over Notre Dame.
Though the circumstances are much different this year, the Aggies are taking the time this weekend to celebrate the 10-year mark of that feat.
As A&M hosts No. 22 Georgia on Sunday, Jan. 31, around 11 members of the 2011 national championship team will be in attendance and honored at halftime and throughout the game. The championship trophy and other memorabilia will be available for attendees to take photos with on the concourse.
The Aggies’ 18-year head coach Gary Blair said due to COVID-19 protocols, he and his current team won’t be able to meet with the former players who return to Aggieland this weekend.
“A lot of that is being taken away from us because of COVID[-19] and the protocol,
and we cannot quite celebrate it the way it should be celebrated, but we’re going to do the best we can,” Blair said. “I had an idea that we were going to go down to the Queen [Theatre] and they were going to show the games, but now’s not the time. We’ll have to wait another time. All of the things that were planned, we’re having to cut them all short and that’s what’s tough.”
While they won’t be able to have the reunion they had initially planned, A&M associate head coach Kelly Bond-White said it was the players and support staff that made the 2010-2011 team so special.
“We’ve built this place on family. When we talk about a 10-year anniversary, just sharing a lot of stories, surprisingly a lot of them are not about the actual games themselves but more about the journey that it took our young ladies and our staff, our fans, everybody that was along for that ride,” Bond-White said. “That’s what I think I remember most and what it’s done most for my career is make me more appreciative of the people that are involved in each year’s journey.”
While the 2011 title was the first for the Aggies, Blair had experienced that level of success in seasons prior. As an assistant coach at Louisiana Tech, Blair helped lead the Bulldogs to a national championship win in 1982. He also served as head coach at Arkansas when the Razorbacks won the WNIT Championship in 1999.
“When you start talking about team sports, you realize how hard it is to win a national championship,” Blair said. “Boy, you were just riding the wave. You were at the highest moment of your life, in recruiting, in coaching, in teaching.”
Blair said the Aggies’ national championship in 2011 came as a result of hard work and dedication.
“When we got there in 2011, we earned our way the whole way of getting there,” Blair said. “We were not a Cinderella [team]. We were in, ranked probably [No.] 5 through 11 [or] 12 just about the whole year … We just felt like we could play with anybody in the country.”
While Blair said the moment of winning was satisfying, the interactions he has had since mean a lot to him.
“Winning the thing, it stays with you every day,” Blair said. “Every day, if I’m out somewhere new, people want to see the ring or they want to hear the stories or they want to tell me their stories, where they were. They were in Afghanistan serving, they were over in Europe on a vacation, they were down the street at a block party with their neighbors and came running out on the street whooping and hooting and everything that you’d want to do.”
Guard for the 2011 A&M team Sydney Carter said she can still recall every moment of the 2010-2011 season.
“There’s not one thing that I can’t remember about that season,” Carter said. “That year was so special, and you could tell back in the summertime. There’s workouts that I remember, there’s moments in games where I can remember certain shots. There’s not just one moment that I can pinpoint.”
While the season ended on a high note, Carter said there were still low moments for the team, including a loss to Kansas State on March 2, 2011.
“I think that really shifted our mindset to, ‘Okay, it’s time to really turn it on because it’s getting close to March,’” Carter said. “I think that loss probably hurt a little more than the Gonzaga loss [in 2010] because we kind of just went to Kansas State and laid an egg.”
Bond-White said it took a talk from A&M assistant coach Vic Schaefer for her to finally take a moment to revel in the Aggies’ victory.
“It was one of those things that you don’t appreciate in the moment as an assistant because you’re so caught up sometimes in the grind of the job,” Bond-White said. “I’ll never forget as the confetti fell, we were back there, thinking about the recruits we needed to call to make sure they saw this, make sure they do that. I’ll never forget Coach Schaefer walked over to us and said, ‘Forget about that for a minute. This isn’t something that happens all the time. Totally take in this moment because there’s no guarantees that you’ll ever be back here in your career.’ I’m glad he said that because then it became about the journey, and you think about moments that led to that.”
One of the moments that led to the national title, Bond-White said, is “probably my lowest moment as a coach.” The season prior, on March 22, 2010, A&M fell to Gonzaga 72-71 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“I just felt absolutely gutted for our players when we stood on that floor after a loss to Gonzaga,” Bond-White said. “We knew we were that team that was building toward that. You want to have answers for your players, and we didn’t have many answers because we thought we were the better team and that we would be advancing further in the round.”
Carter said the loss to Gonzaga was a turning point for the team.
“It just did something to us,” Carter said. “We knew we had fallen so short of the goals we had to begin that season, so we came back in the summertime. We might have taken a week or two off and then we immediately got back to work … If anyone asks me what it took to get there, I tell them it started in the summertime. It didn’t just happen, we didn’t just turn it on in March for March Madness. It was a process.”
Four months after the Aggies brought home their national championship, the ESPYs provided another once-in-a-lifetime moment for Blair when he met former Auburn and Philadelphia 76ers player Charles Barkley at a pre-show event.
“I had never met him, but I admired him and always called Danielle Adams the Charles Barkley of women’s basketball,” Blair said. “Barkley motions me with his little finger, ‘Coach, can you come over here a second?’ We sit down on the bleachers where we were going to take the picture. Barkley doesn’t mince words, he says, ‘Coach, I like the way you coach. I like the way your players respond. They look like they’re having fun and they’re playing the game the way it should be.’ For once, I didn’t have a word to say back to Charles Barkley, but I will always remember that moment.
“When a peer, a hero of yours and our players can stop to single [you] out, ‘I watched your game,’ that meant a lot to my kids; it meant a lot to me personally.”