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April 4, 2011
THE MODERATOR: Joining us on the dais is head coach Gary Blair and student-athletes Sydney Carter, Tyra White, Adaora Elonu, Danielle Adams and Sydney Colson. And this is an open interview forum so we'll start with questions.
Q. Coach, although any of the players might want to respond to this, I'd be interested. I think most players come out of high school thinking they know something about playing hard. Given the way you play, how much of a shock do you find that is to your incoming kids?
COACH BLAIR: Sometimes it's tough. Like when you see Colson and Carter, different styles from how they played in high school, Colson was just a flamboyant style of play, all offense. Strip you, steal, go the other way, passing lines, smile. Where Carter had to do a little bit of both, the defensive end. She had to play the 2 guard and the 1 in high school.
And it's just a little bit different high school setting for them. We have some very, very good high school coaches in Texas. And that's why so many other programs come into our state to recruit, whether it's football or basketball or baseball, I'm proud of what we have in our state.
And I don't like to share it, but we get our share of them and then we branch out to other players. But we go hard, because that's all part of practice.
Our practices are a lot harder than our games. A lot harder. The difference is, like last night, in both ball games, the starters were playing 95 percent of the minutes. On all four teams.
At this level you just learn how to go hard. You get it finished. You go watch the next ballgame, you go home. You see everybody in the lobby there. That took an hour before I could get to Steak n' Shake and you took 13 of us over there, my family members, and it was like a zoo.
And we were all sober drinking orange freezes and having steak burgers, and it was good. But right now we're all on adrenalin. You're not used to getting up this early because you all work the nights. But, hey, you're on adrenalin now, let's just have a great Final Four and enjoy the moment.
But while we're enjoying the moment, this team has got to seize the moment.
Q. The two Sydneys, before last night, what did you know about Notre Dame? And what do you know about them now?
SYDNEY CARTER: Well, I've seen them play a couple times on TV. And I just think they have really good chemistry on their offensive end. I think Skylar Diggins is a great point guard. And I think she does a really good job of running her team and finding the shots that she's used to taking in there. And I think she takes really good shots.
But I think they have a complete offensive team. And I just think they work really well together.
SYDNEY COLSON: Pretty much the same. I've seen them play a few times as well. Going into their UConn game, we were talking about how they have played them three times before.
And this is their fourth time playing them, and they could possibly get an upset just like us against Baylor. And we were confident that they were going to go out there and do it, just because, you know, so much is on the line. And at some point you've got to go out there and get a win before it becomes embarrassing for your team.
And they went out and they battled hard. They're a physical team just like us, so I think it's going to be a really good matchup. Just like us, they have an all-around good team, and not just like one player who can potentially go off.
But like Syd said, Skylar does a good job for their team. She's a good point guard. And it will be -- at least we'll be used to guarding a left-hand point guard since we had to do it with Baylor four times this season. That may help us out a little bit because guarding a left-handed guard is unorthodox in our game. But they're a good all-around team.
Q. Sydney Carter, how do you balance the emotions and just the physical nature of last night a game, being totally exhausted, but also being totally excited about getting here, and just the thrill of victory last night, but then having to go right back knowing that you have to play again tomorrow?
SYDNEY CARTER: I was actually thinking about this question to myself this morning, because I was just thinking about how tired I was last night and everything like that.
But I gotta say to myself, I'm playing in the national championship game, so all this tired and I don't know if I can do it has got to go out the window.
I think once I get to the game my adrenaline will definitely kick back up. We've got to make sure we're staying focused and confident and making sure that our practice goes well today and our shootaround goes well tomorrow, because we're trying to reach our ultimate goal and that's to win the whole thing.
And we're one step away from it, and we're definitely not willing to shy down from it now. So everybody's just got to pull it together and do it one more time.
Q. Coach, could you share your insights on the matchups and the two team styles of play?
COACH BLAIR: I think it's, first, a great matchup. First, I think it's also good to see two new faces in the Final Four championship game. I think I know we screwed it up for ESPN, well, Notre Dame screwed it up by beating Tennessee. You don't have the Pat-Geno show and we screwed it up because now you don't have the Brittney Griner and the dunk possibility, and everybody wants to see the dunk.
But why not just have two pretty faces like me and Muffet there, and it's good for the game of basketball right now. Don't take anything away from what Pat and Geno and Tara has accomplished. But right now for our sport to grow, we need Texas A&M and Notre Dame in this game.
We need also the fans of Indiana. Whether or not they're Notre Dame fans or they're University of Indiana or Butler fans, we need them at this ballgame.
Okay. It will be embarrassing if we don't have a sell-out with a team from Indiana in the state of Indiana. We're getting as many Aggies up here as we can get. And we're converting a lot of others.
And we are trying to convert and we're working hard on that. The styles are similar. They're more physical with their half court defense. We do it with speed in fronting the posts and pressuring the ball.
They do it by old school ball. They know how to play. Their guards have always got their forearms out. Mallory and Novosel, is that how you say it, they're just smart. Now Skylar is similar to Colson. They're out there, they're flying around, and they're very similar to what they like to do. But the post players, I think size-wise we match up a little bit better than what we did against Stanford with the size. God, Stanford was just so huge.
What was happening, Danielle, we had to convince her to use her mid-range game instead of her low post game, because they were building a campfire around her there. So she had to get the shots there.
Notre Dame runs their stuff. And what's good about Notre Dame, it's a five-person team, not a one-person team, and all five people can score.
If somebody's not hot, they use her as a screener or defensive player, and that's the way this team is here.
So I think you're going to see balance. That's why you have all five starters up for both teams. They all deserve the questions from y'all. Because they've got the answers. They have the answers, their style, and one and two kids from the bench, that's all you'll see.
Okay. This kid's already gone 80 minutes, and she'll go another -- I think she's played just about every minute of almost every ballgame in the playoffs, and she'll go a little bit harder. And I want that one down on the end to get 40 minutes out of her, too, without making this a little bit grayer. Okay?
But, you know, she made that behind-the-back pass. We've seen it before. We've seen it completed. And I about went bananas.
But I knew she would come back in and make the right read at the right time and the right play, and the pass was harder to make than the shot that Tyra White made. So give credit to the pass, instead of the shot. The shot was good because Tyra's the best kid we have at finishing on the driving layup.
Q. Coach, what you were talking about whether this is good for the game? Can you talk about the balance between name recognition teams and new faces, and is it time that the game can get beyond just maybe a name and a player that everyone will recognize, like UConn and Maya Moore?
COACH BLAIR: Maya Moore has done so much to this game, just like Geno has done for the game and everything. And how can you not love what Maya Moore brings. And all of you out there are all disappointed that Maya's not in the finals. I know it, unless you're from Notre Dame or whatever, because she's such a beautiful person and a beautiful player.
I read the U.S.A. this morning, and Christine did a great article on Stanford and four years they've gone through. But that story was supposed to be the winning story, but all of a sudden that was her -- I guarantee you that was her story before the game even started.
And so y'all have story lines to do whatever your editors or your Lou Grant tells you to look for, but the 40 minutes of basketball, why does it have to be decided on who the best player is or who is most well-known coach is?
Now, look in your other sports. Look in the Tampa Bays that cannot even sell out in baseball, but, my gosh, they've had great teams.
Look at my Texas Rangers now, just swept the Red Sox three games in a row. It's good for sports. It's good for story lines. Instead of having Brittney Griner or Maya Moore and Geno, but what's wrong with good old Muffet and Gary and who teams that play tremendous team basketball that do not rely on just one player?
Q. Both Sydneys, after the second game last night, Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said that Notre Dame was impossible to play defense against. I'm sure his comment was made after the loss and everything. But that sounds like it sets up perfectly for you guys considering your last two games have been kind of mission impossibles. Is that the challenge of playing a team that's on a roll like you guys? Is that something that kind of excites you at this time in addition to playing for the national championship?
SYDNEY CARTER: Definitely. I think that, you know, a lot of people -- I don't want to say they fear our defense, but I think they really respect what we do on the defensive end. And we take so much pride on the defensive end and making people feel uncomfortable and making them do things that they don't want to do.
So I definitely think that worries them a little bit. And I just think we're going to come out with the same defensive intensity that we always come out with. And that's been so successful for us. So I don't see why we would do anything different.
And I just hope that we have that adrenaline rushing in us in this upcoming game and we play harder than we normally play.
SYDNEY COLSON: Basically the same thing Syd said. Just we're going to have to come out and keep the same, you know, defensive tenacity that we've had all throughout the tournament.
The Stanford game was the first time where we were having to come from behind. Every other game we had jumped on people from the beginning of the game and played good defense, maintained our lead, and held our composure throughout the whole game. It can't be anything different when we're playing for the national championship.
We have to go out and Coach Schaefer was telling us, we've gotten to this point by doing what we've done, and it's worked for us. Don't change anything that we've done thus far, because this is what's gotten us into this good situation.
So we'll have to come out, stay aggressive on defense. It's going to be a physical game, I think they're just as physical as we are. And I think it's just going to be an all-out battle, which it should be.
Q. Coach, you might have believed since the beginning of the season you guys could be in a national championship, but did you ever think it was going to be against Notre Dame and did you think that anybody ever thought that the women's national championship would be Notre Dame against Texas A&M?
COACH BLAIR: Like I said, ESPN didn't envision it. But the thing is we're both No. 2 seeds. We're both in the top ten all year. So what's the big story? I mean, we've both done what we were supposed to do all year long. So give credit.
And what's the story in the men? No No. 1 seeds are there. And we played well, we've done balanced scoring. Nneka had 30-something last night and Maya had 30-something. They're both going home. Both these teams have balanced scoring, even though we have an All-American there but she'll defer to others when they take her away and they were putting so much attention on her and we had other kids step up. This kid's 5'6". The other one's 5'8". Look at the guard.
I think the story today is two teams that do what they do well and they don't worry about having the 35-point scorers and the great names of the game, the story is Notre Dame and A&M. And if you all cannot remember some of our names, that's good. But remember A&M and Notre Dame. Not Muffet and Gary. A&M, Notre Dame. It's good.
And if we can pull this thing off, it would be a great football rivalry we need to get going. We just beat Notre Dame in tennis, I noticed the other day. Okay. But we did win that game 4-0.
THE MODERATOR: We'll dismiss the student-athletes.
Q. Coach, I know that the crowd numbers were disappointing, and I know empty seats are disappointing. Could you comment big picture on what you thought of the venue, the site. There's been a lot of discussion ongoing about arenas versus domes for this event and whether growing the sport needs the most seats possible versus a packed, full arena, which obviously wasn't filled last night.
COACH BLAIR: I'm not really sure how they're going to spin why the arena -- they're blaming it on the four teams that were here. We get 800 seats, and you have to turn around charters and tickets and everything to get them here this short of a time.
Notre Dame's the only local team. And I'm not sure how many tickets they've sold. But it sounded like a lot more than Connecticut up in the stands last night.
And people like to pull for the so-called underdog. All the coaches that are in the stands, the ones that didn't sell their tickets and come to the game. We have our convention going on.
And I'm all for the arenas. But I'm all for me being in whatever venue it is. And if we can go back to where the Hoosiers played in their little gym, whatever, and I like the arenas. I like to see it in American Airlines Center in Dallas. I think that's a great venue right there.
San Antonio was great. Do we keep going into areas just to justify the reason? I'm very interested to see what's going to happen in Denver next year. That scares me right there. So I'm hoping -- we've never been there before. It's not a huge basketball state. And all of a sudden we're going to Denver just because it's a name right now. I'm not sure that's going to work.
Believe it or not, when we went to Tampa Bay, there was great crowds there, in Tampa Bay, which was more of a baseball state or football state.
And we have to make sure, not who has the best bid, but what is good for the game to grow, where we should go. When we were here at the dome in 2005, I think we averaged about 24,000 fans or something like that. But it didn't feel good for the coaches or the players.
Okay? I set up and watched both games and when Baylor won, and how many of you all in the audience right now, raise your hand, can tell me who lost that game? Okay? There's a few.
They only remember the winners. Okay. I want to make sure you're going to remember Texas A&M. And the only way you're going to remember Texas A&M is who wins this thing.
Okay. Who wins this thing. And we fought hard to get here. And I want to make sure it's not just a feel-good story and it's a pat on the back or atta boy thing when we get back to College Station. I want the whole nine yards.
And we're going to work hard today in practice to get us to where we need to. We've got to be smart in practice, because we gave a lot of energy last night.
So it will not be your normal slam-bam practice. We have to do more of a mental practice today than a physical practice.
Q. Coach, you're saying how it's good for the game to have the two new teams here and the new faces. Do you think the game's ready to have that situation? Is women's basketball ready to have you in the national championship tomorrow night or is it still at the point where it needs a Maya Moore or Brittney Griner or a Pat or Geno?
COACH BLAIR: I think it's needed if you all will write that story. I think you all have got your choice of how you want to spin it, and it's going to be up to you.
Can a good women's basketball game that's going to be played between the ears and below the rim excite the people out there enough to watch this thing. And that's what it's all about.
You look at the NBA, all the chosen stars are all going to the major cities to play. And right now we're starting to spread it out a little bit more in women's basketball instead of everyone going to Tennessee, Duke and Connecticut, Stanford and a couple other schools.
We're starting to spread it out. Look at the Baylors, and look at the Texas A&Ms. They're getting it done. And look at the Notre Dames, and look at the schools that are moving up that you've never heard before, the Gonzagas. It's good for our game.
It might not be good for your ratings or your newspaper lines but it's good for the game. And so sometimes you have to go through the growing pains of this to get to where we want to be, parity, where people would be excited where a Butler and a VCU are playing for the national championship on the men's side. We need that on the women's side as well, as long as it involves A&M and somebody else.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about -- I saw where earlier this week you talked about taking the job after they showed commitment to you. Can you talk about where the Texas A&M program has come from and what's changed in that program since you started back in 1982?
COACH BLAIR: In '82 when I was at Louisiana Tech, we just won it in the last year, in '81, out in Oregon. Last year of AIW.
And really that was NCAA, too, as well. It was just -- we just had to wait for another year. The big programs of that time were Tennessee, ourselves, Old Dominions and the USCs of the world and throw in a couple more that I'm missing right now. The legend of the games on the front row here, you can ask him about that, with Mel Greenberg. But the talent was good at the top, but it was so average in the middle and it was very poor at the bottom.
And now we've grown where our average, the middle is pretty good. Look at the attendance. I looked it up last night. Notre Dame has played in 23 games of over 7500 fans. 23 ball games that they've played already. That's good for the game.
Now we've got to get the middle of the pack to start drawing a little bit better because they don't have the name stars. So they've got to be more creative. Sort of like what Minor League baseball is doing now. Minor League baseball is fan friendly and they're putting butts in the seats.
We need to do that and be more creative in marketing our sport. We need to spend money to make money, and a lot of programs do not do that. They will not put enough money into women's basketball.
Women's basketball grows in so many ways besides the dollar Bill. The revenue. Every Aggie across the world has seen us in the top 25. Now in the AP poll or USA Today poll for about six years. That helps the chemistry. That helps the admission department.
That helps Aggies all over the country feel good about themselves, the same thing is happening in Notre Dame and the little Gonzagas.
That's where we are right now. And hopefully we can keep it going. But men's basketball, what did they say? 48 million here in this town when they had the Final Four here, and they'll make 17 to 20 million here for the women's side. That's where we have to go. So we're still getting a larger chunk than some of the other sports.
Q. Stepping outside a little bit to the bigger picture, there's some serious money being committed to coaches' salaries at this level now and long-term contracts. Could you speak to maybe what the market forces are that have led to these contracts and do these contracts kind of validate now the women's game within the bigger picture of an athletic department?
COACH BLAIR: I think it's true, because you cannot measure it on dollars and cents. We raised 24 million in nine months to put in our new practice facility when Gillespie and I first got it going at A&M. It wasn't just all Gillespie. It was women fans that wanted to donate because of women's basketball. It wasn't just all from the men's side.
The salaries, are they justified? You betcha they are. Just like the first time all you writers back there, when Skip Bayless got his first paycheck and you all were jealous way back. He's good. If you're good, pay the person. Okay? Pay the person.
They need to pay you guys a whole lot more, that's why my journalism minor at Texas Tech, I decided to coach, because I knew what they were paying y'all.
And I want everybody to feel good about their sport. Does a CEO deserve 65 million, probably not, but he's still responsible for that company of going to the next level. And if he's earned it, go ahead.
We just hired Nikki Caldwell down at LSU. That's a great hire down there. Kevin McGuff going from Xavier to Washington. Very much needed, very deserving. I think it's good. We're not even close to comparison to what's happening on the men's side. But we're still earning our right.
Look at the coaches that have been up here at the top. We're finally getting decent paychecks. And it's fun. And I have to have some of those paychecks myself as well, because I've got 13 relatives here and they're all on my ticket. So I've got to keep winning.
Q. Do you think it's fair that women are held to a higher EPR standard than the men, or perhaps that maybe is a good thing?
COACH BLAIR: The higher what?
COACH BLAIR: Yes. Yes and no. You can go either way on that. That's a Catch-22 thing. There's not a right answer for that. I just think women, coaches or women administrators, I think they're very good, and I think that's why you're seeing women in this world continue to grow. I think it's good for our country.
I think some day we're going to see a woman president, very quick, or a woman vice president. And it's needed. I'm all for it. I'm part of the minority. I'm in the women's sport even though I'm a man coaching, but I'm in the minority part of our sport. But I'm proud to be in it. I chose women's basketball. Women's basketball did not choose me.
I chose it in high school when the girls came over next door to the boys' gym and asked me if I would take the job while I was waiting around for a baseball job. I chose it and I've never gone back, and all the way from when I left making 22,000 in high school to taking Louisiana Tech at 22,000, in 1980.
And then it's been good since. Andy, I don't know if I answered that one. I probably butchered that one. But if we want to talk about it a little bit later, but I appreciate your coverage, what you're doing.
Q. You mentioned the other day that obviously Texas A&M is known as the football school, and now of course you have two schools playing for the national title that have predominantly known as football schools. Can you just, from your end of it, from the years that you've been there, talk about specifically the difficulties in getting people to pay attention to something else in a place where football is like religion?
COACH BLAIR: You know, it's sort of funny, spring football is going on at the same time. Our baseball team is very, very good. They just changed the start of the baseball game on Tuesday night to 5:00 because we were going to be on TV at 7:00. Could you picture that happening?
I mean, I'm all for the Digger Phleps and Shelby Metcalfs. And some of you might not remember Shelby, but he was the men's coach for so long at A&M. And it's good to see those schools be recognized for something besides football. We're not going to put 80 something thousand in like we do for every football game, and Notre Dame, that's one of my bucket list things also, I've always wanted to see a Notre Dame football game in person.
But eventually I'll get there. But the question is, are these schools -- Stanford, Ohio State, the Tennessees, the Floridas of the world, the Texases of the world, have all been the complete package over the years. They've been good in every sport.
Texas A&M finished sixth in the Sears Cup last year. We're doggone good in a lot of sports and it all starts from Bill Byrne. He's our athletic director. I'm his first hire. He came in '03. I came in '03. And he said we're going to have a total program while we're building football back to the level. So instead of putting all our resources into one sport, we put them into all sports and use the tradition of A&M to build up everything else that we had.
That's what separates A&M from so many other schools is the traditions that we have. It's not the military as much of the core, it is just we support -- we support women's sports as well as we do men's sport. Our attendance in national softball, soccer, I think we're number two in attendance in soccer. Softball we're in the top 10. Basketball we finished No. 12 behind Notre Dame.
But we used to be dead last when I took the job. We were averaging about 300 people a game, and those are usually family members.
And that was it. When I took the job there, we were 12th, out of 12 teams. And probably 13th, we were probably behind the conference office at that time.
But it's what we are. It's what we are, and we share. The e-mails I'm getting from the other coaches, that means more to me than the e-mails that I'm getting from the fans, because some day it's going to happen to each of those coaches at A&M.
They're going to get their chance at this level. But now you've got to figure a way to make it go.
I'd like to see what the Rose Garden looks like. I'd like to see what Disney World looks like. Okay. All those things are very important. But they go to the winners, not the teams that finish in second.
Q. You said spring football is going on now. Is playing for the national championship tomorrow night, would this be a bigger story than the ongoing spring football?
COACH BLAIR: Not on the hits -- Homer can probably tell you that. The hits that go on in spring football and recruiting versus a men's basketball story or equestrian or women's basketball, it's mindboggling. Right now football is the number one sport in the country as far as that.
But the best story might be basketball, because of the entertainment value that we're presenting to people. It's for everyone. People sit down, but let football do its thing while the rest of us are continuing to grow.
How many of you have ever covered a soccer game? How many in this room can tell me what an off-side trap is in soccer? Not too many of you. But we're growing. Remember when y'all used to make fun of soccer and everything?
Now we're putting great crowds. It's going to continue to grow, and so is women's basketball. Football is still out there. I love it. I never miss a game. Never miss a game.
I'm the biggest Dallas Cowboy fan in the whole world. Can tell you all the history, the whole nine yards. But there's time for other sports. But now the seasons are so long, now we're overlapping.
When we overlap that's generally when I go on the road to play road games in November, December, because I do not want to be there when football's still going on. I'll usually play one game a week but I do not bring in a lot of buy-in teams because we will not draw well. I'd rather go on the road, get the RPI points, make my team better by playing in the situations and the venues we have to go to.
Q. A few years ago you remember, of course, when Baylor and Michigan State played. Purdue and Notre Dame had been national champs and some of us were trying to see maybe if there was more equalizing going on in the women's game and more schools we would expect to see winning the national title. Of course, as you know, there was a run for UConn and Tennessee. They kind of came back to the top, bubbled back to the surface in a big way. Is this maybe the time now with what's happened over the last two weeks where women's basketball is really seeing the true parity that many have thought might exist almost 40 years after Title 9?
COACH BLAIR: I think that happens when you see a Skylar Diggins stay home and go to Notre Dame instead of going to the Connecticut which probably finished second on that or Tennessee. They're either always second, third, or first. They're never last.
I think it's also very good for the game. And to see the Courtney Vandersloots stay on the West Coast and play at Gonzaga. Right now, why not have these stars -- we all want to win championships, but sometimes the conference championship is large because we're here for four years.
We do not have the one-and-out kids. The one-and-out kids, that's not good for the game of men's basketball. Men's basketball, gosh, that's a great game.
And look at the money that it generates everywhere. But I wish they'd change that rule in the men where they could not leave after one year. At least two. Three would be mindboggling, but that's not going to happen, because of the egos and the money that's involved.
But in the women's game, isn't it great that Brittney Griner is going to be here for the next two years? But isn't it also great that little 5'6" Sydney Carter is going to be here for another year, and y'all are going to be doing research and saying: What's Sydney all about? Where did she come from? DeSoto High School, same high school as Von Miller who will be drafted hopefully by my Cowboys in the first round.
But that's what we need now. We need some of these little stories instead of the sensationalism stories. You remember back in the early '80s, South Carolina ended up beating my old school Stephen F. Austin to get to the Final Four and all you heard about was Pam Parsons and the stories afterwards because that's all Sports Illustrated wanted and you writers wanted. You wanted the dunk. You wanted to lower the rim.
You wanted everything different than the story of the game itself. It's pure. It's pure. It's good. It is true. We're not getting paid under the table. We're not doing all this stuff that is going on now in the men's game. We're not having to do that. And hopefully, if it ever happens, I'm sure the hell out of it, retired on the golf course, because I want no part of it.
We police ourselves very well with the coaches and this association. There's no major scandals in women's basketball and hopefully we can keep it that way.
I don't know if I've answered your question, but I am a big fan of yours.
Q. Yesterday you were talking about how you were able to chop down Stanford's trees that you had to go up against. Tomorrow night you face a very talented Notre Dame back court. Talk to me about how you're going to prepare your team and your game plan for that.
COACH BLAIR: They don't make a lot of mistakes. You're looking at teams shooting 48 percent. They're shooting it in the playoffs as well as they shot it during the season. So they haven't changed whatsoever. Everything is the same.
You go across their stat sheets all year long, they've just been consistent. Two years ago we were at Notre Dame to play in the first and second round. We beat somebody, Evansville I believe in the first round, first time ever, and we were supposed to play Notre Dame.
Notre Dame got upset by Minnesota. But you could see Notre Dame was going to get better and better and better. And now look at what they're proving. They do not get down by losing in a round, they get better by coaching their kids up.
And that's what we have to do, because Muffet hasn't had a whole lot of Skylars. Okay? I've got one coming in next year, Kelsey Bone, number two ranked kid in the country. She went to South Carolina, I got her on the rebound, a Houston kid.
I haven't been getting kids like that. I've been getting the junior college Danielle Adams or the Tanisha Smiths or the kids we've coached up.
Tyra White was the only McDonald's All-American sitting up here. The only one out of the five up here. And I imagine Skylar's the only one on Notre Dame.
And we coach kids up. That's the strength of what we have. My coaching staff is damn good. Okay? My luck, who was it, Carol Owens, today, if you hadn't written in this story, she ruptured her Achilles in practice. She was a great player at Notre Dame, the whole nine yards.
I promise you, I will not rupture my Achilles because I quit doing drills about seven, eight years ago. But those are good stories.
We want to sell what we have right now. It is going to be a game, a pure game. Remember -- no, you're too young. You remember back when Connecticut got to the Final Four for the first time in New Orleans? Nobody knows who the hell they were.
You couldn't tell me the five starters, okay, because they were not household names. But the media is not as good as what it is now. Now people are going to know who my two Sydneys are, because these two Sydneys take the basketball away from them. They're going to make it in life.
Whatever they decide to go into, and hopefully they do not go into coaching -- I don't think either one of them -- because they're going to make it as top women CEOs somewhere in the country. It's going to be very special.
And, by the way, that was a good article in the Indianapolis Star yesterday on the Stephanie White and the four other young ladies that they interviewed what are they doing now, some are in marketing, some are in anything that has to do with basketball or sport. And it was good because I read those stories to my kids. I've read those stories and say there is life after basketball and you do not have to be a pro basketball player to do it.
I'm sorry I'm long-winded, but, folks, this is my moment, and I'm going to seize it.
Q. This is a national media stage. What do you think the misconceptions are about Texas A&M as a university and as an athletic program?
COACH BLAIR: I think we need to do a better job of marketing Texas A&M as a whole instead of marketing just one sport or one band or even the secretary of defense in Bob Gates. We need to realize what we are.
It's marketing. Exposure. It's getting people out there to sell it, because I'm tired of going in to airports and seeing all Texas and Michigan and UCLA and even Miami stuff over Texas A&M. If we've got 50,000 students we need to find a way to sell Texas A&M as a whole a lot better instead of whatever sport is in season.
That's something I've been on my soapbox for a long time on that. And everybody says yes, yes, but we've got no direction on how to solve that. And I think Texas A&M is a school that everybody loves. It's sort of like an Army-Navy football game; everybody loves that game because of the spirit and the tradition and red, white and blue.
But let's enjoy A&M for what it is. It is an all-purpose university that is tremendous in education. It is tremendous in all the sports that we're doing. We're in the top 10 in 10 out of our 20 sports right now. Let's give credit to what is done. Let's give credit to our leaders, from our president on down to our AD, to all the support staff that works with us.
Now, I want to sell A&M. I do not want to have to explain A&M to a person from Connecticut or a person from Gonzaga. I want to be able -- that they're going to know who we are and what we've accomplished.
And a lot of that has to do with the media, but a lot of that has to do with us and marketing.
Q. Given what you and Notre Dame saw night after night January, February, as opposed to some of the other big names in their conferences this year, how important is it and what kind of exercise really to get you over this level?
COACH BLAIR: Well, remember back in the days when we were at Louisiana Tech, we didn't even have a conference. We would just go play four games on the West Coast in a week, day off between every one. We'd play Long Beach, USC, UCLA, Vegas. One week time, get back to class. Then we'd go to the East Coast and we would play Georgia, Clemson, Maryland and Old Dominion, one other school in there. Could you picture schools doing that now?
We did it to save money, but then we also did it to find the competition. Now we find it -- we're going to a 10-team conference. We're losing two teams that were near the bottom this year in Colorado and Nebraska.
So we've been getting seven to eight teams into the same as the Big East. Is that nine, is that right? In the women?
Is that good for the game? We do not have a bottom in our conference. Okay? How can you say Nebraska is at the bottom when they were 31-0 last year until we beat them in the semifinals? That's what makes us stronger, is the parity, the coaching, within the Big 12 is very good.
Nobody leaves the Big 12, Mel, unless they're asked to leave. Nobody. The other conferences come to us.
Not just because of the pay, because of the attendance and because of the recruiting base that we have in that Midwest corridor right there, particularly in the southwest corridor that we can get kids to come. Basketball is very important to the ten schools that are left. But we're going to have to play 18 games next year.
That's like the NFL. They have to play 18 games. That's stupid. But we're going to play it and have a conference tournament.
Now, will we have enough gas left once we get to the playoffs to be able to continue to play at the level that we're playing right now? Because I cannot see the teams that finish 9 and 10 in our league are going to hold us back. They're going to make us better. But it is going to drive us bananas because right now January and February it's the 60 longest days that you can ever -- and the 60 shortest nights as a coach, and it is tough.
And it's a grind, grind, grind. Maybe that's why I'm doing a commuter marriage right now because my wife probably doesn't want to be with me during those two months right there, because it's all preparation, it's all recruiting. It is all game planning, and it's dealing with 18- to 22-year-olds and the problems that they have in life.
And believe me, they have a few problems. But we adjust. But us 65-year-olds have a few problems, too, okay. But the most important thing I do, Mel, to get myself ready, I go to a movie the night before I play or the night after I play, and I've been sneaking in on that from 58 years old on on that senior discount, and I go in and get a box of popcorn. I sit by myself over in the handicap and I lose it for two hours.
I lose it and get into fantasy world and watch a Julia Roberts or Tom Cruise or something.
And that's the only way I can get through it. Other than that, because there's so much parity right now, there used to be a bottom of the league. And when I was in the SEC, the SEC was at the top.
Now it is the Big 12 and probably the Big East at the top. And I can't see that changing.
Q. Could you talk a little bit about the job your support staff, your managers, trainers, all them have done during the season and especially in the tournament?
COACH BLAIR: Sometimes those are some of the best stories that nobody ever asked them. I'm glad you asked that question. I've got one young lady, walk-on who is on scholarship this semester, that owes $64,000 in student loans.
Okay? That's Catherine Snow, but she wanted to be an Aggie instead of going and playing Division II or junior college ball where her ability lied. So she didn't have the rich parents. She had the grades. She's getting there. She's a great story.
I've got five managers that -- all five of my managers this year are all female. They're all excellent kids. They don't come out there to be so-called men's practice players that serve as managers like some schools cheat on.
I've got a separate men's basketball practice squad that comes in along with Kelsey Bone, who is sitting out this year. All those kids, the student trainer, I love her to death. I can't even tell you her full name, but she gives me a smile every morning.
Those kids, my director of basketball ops, Eric Burts, he's got to handle all of this stuff. He has to handle the money, the logistics, where we're going, whatever. The Steve Millers, Charlotte Millers and video coordinators, assistant AD, they have to handle all the little stuff to keep me atune. Miller tells me every morning: You're going to be here, be here, you gotta spin that, don't talk too long on that, talk about A&M as a whole.
I feel like I'm Obama and I've got to have the research to be able to say the right words sometimes to y'all. And that's what -- last night, it was funny. I was walking across. Condoleezza Rice was sitting there in her Stanford thing. And I shake hands with Tara VanDerveer, and I point towards her, giving her a little salute, being an ex-Marine, and I said: We've got the Secretary of Defense in Bob Gates. I told Tara. And Bob Gates' wife was at our game. Bob doesn't get into sports as much as his wife. His wife, Becky, is our number one fan, and she flew in from Washington just to see the ballgame.
So it's all the little stories that you see in the women's side that's so important. But all that support staff, they work so hard. Look at what -- a lot of times, like when I was at Arkansas, when we would get beat in the second round, they'd come into the press conference and wanted to see if our band or our cheerleaders could advance, or our mascot, because we would win that -- we're winning it here.
Our Yell Leader won the mascot competition. I hate to call our Yell Leader a mascot, but that's all we have. Don't have a mascot. We have Reveille who doesn't travel in basketball. But we want to win that. We want to win everything we possibly can.
Q. You were talking before about the difference between -- you were saying before basically there's no No. 1 season on the men's side. Is there a difference in terms of perception you think that when there's no Tennessees or UConns in the women's side in terms of an upset is a bad thing in women's basketball?
COACH BLAIR: I don't think it's a bad thing. I don't think that either game was upsets last night. When the 2 beats a 1, come on now, those weren't upsets.
I think Notre Dame is playing so well down the stretch right now. I mean, she's had to go through, Sheri Coale, Pat Summitt and Geno Auriemma. That says a lot for Notre Dame.
I've only gone through Vivian Stringer, Andy Landers, Kim Mulkey, who am I missing now? Tara VanDerveer. I mean, those are our heros.
If I was collecting baseball cards right now, which I used to, I would have those cards. And so that gives you a high right there competing against people of that caliber at this level.
That is very important to me and still growing myself as a coach, learning from them, getting back to the film and seeing the mistakes that I made as a coach or my point guard and how can I relate those to those kids where we can make a one-day turnaround preparation time.
We've got to be able to do it. Now it becomes mental. After we get finished with all you guys and gals, we've got to go and forget our fans. The best thing they do now, they put a policeman up on the floor where your team stays now, to keep all the relatives away and the fans.
We've come a long way. Okay. But you have to have that. We eat breakfast down at the basement there to just be away from our fans.
You want to love them. You want to hug them. You appreciate the money that they spent, but it's time for rest and focus right now.
Q. How much of a breakthrough is this for your program? And also curious, what was the last movie you got to see?
COACH BLAIR: Last movie? Last movie. Hold on. I didn't like Jennifer Anison's last movie. I didn't think it was up to her caliber. Oh, gosh. The best one is what I flub up. "Kings Speech." Absolutely the best movie I've seen in a couple of years, and the greatest acting job.
And it makes you feel as a coach sometimes, when I could get up here and butcher the English language, that a king can get up there and go through the troubles that he had to get to the point where he would feel comfortable addressing the media.
Okay. Now that to me I could sit back and I could watch that and then I could think of myself in those situations, where I see somebody like a Bill Clinton or Obama or any of the politicians that were so good. They can just talk off the cuff. And I admire people that can do that.
I grew up in the Paul Harvey days where he was a great reader. But somebody had to write it out for him. But then I love to see people that have that great command of the English language right now.
And if I could go back to school at Texas Tech and I studied under two University of Missouri professors that told me every day that Missouri was better than Texas Tech, even though they taught at Texas Tech -- haven't figured that out yet -- but I want to learn -- and it's not too late at my age to sit there and learn how to have better communication skills, be able to walk into a room like a Pat Summitt and can hold a room and make everybody in that room feel just as important, whether you're a student newspaper reporter or a junior high coach, to a college coach, to a big CEO.
She has that ability. So I learn from my peers. I watch you guys. I read your stories. Some of them are great. And you're never given enough credit for what you write. The printed word is just so important out there.
I do not use a computer. I have learned how to use whatever you call it on my hip there. I've got an iPhone now. I've gone up. Two months ago I got an iPhone. I just learned how to text about two months ago.
After the game, I had 193 messages. I hadn't cleared them all because it takes me too long. I have to go one finger and do all that. I'm still learning. This is a breakthrough for Gary Blair or Texas A&M right now. Gary Blair's been here before. I just haven't won it all, except -- it's a breakthrough for Texas A&M and the Big 12 conference.
Last year Oklahoma and Baylor both got to the Final Four and neither one of them won the conference tournament or the conference championship. Nebraska and A&M won those two. So it shows you how strong our league is, and that's very important to me is to give credit to our other coaches in our league, because they're very good.
As soon as I got to the room, Debbie at Kansas State sent us a big flower arrangement and everything like that. Those are coaches that even though we compete so hard against each other, we know how to say, hey, good job. Job well done.
Q. Going back to the comments you made about the salaries and the marketing spending money to make money, how realistic do you think it is for an AD to say, okay, I'm going to spend this money on your program, your budget every year, your salaries for you and your assistant coaches, to if not make money, at least get attendance, do those sorts of things to create a larger buzz in the community, the sorts of things that are in a men's coaching contract, do you see those things starting to potentially creep in with the more money that's being spent?
COACH BLAIR: I think that's right. And I think as coaches, as politicians or whatever, we need to become more accountable. We need to give back more to the game and to the community.
That is my strength. I'm everywhere, whether it's I've been a rotarian for 20 years. I speak at every group. I speak free. I'm not in that big speaking bureau that they get 10,000 for each speech and all that. I've never been paid for a speech in my life. I'm not sure if I would take it, though.
But at the same time I want to go out into the community. Too many coaches think their job is just winning and losing, and entertaining a few of the big money people that are supporting your program. You need to go to the other events.
Tom Crean was here watching the game last night, sitting over there by the Stanford section over there. I love to see other head coaches come to other sports. Can you make that time? Can you divide your family time with your official duties of being a head coach? Are you doing it because it's expected or is this part of your personality? And I think that's where we have to grow our game in marketing.
No matter how much money they give you, the head coach of that sport and the assistants and a couple of the top players need to continue to give back in the community world.
We do that all the time. At 8:00 tonight, we're winning the award, the Kyale (phonetic) award for the number one school in the nation that donated back to the Kyale award. And that's very special.
We will be there. No matter what our preparation time is, we will be there at 8:00 to receive that award, because we worked very hard at that.
We sold our jerseys afterwards in an auction. We had to go by the NCAA rules. You cannot have your name on the back. Danielle Adams' jersey went for $10,000. Sydney Colson's went for 75. We raised 34,000 there just on 14 jerseys.
And then what the usual things that we do for the Kyale fun run. Those things are important. But then that's all part of A&M giving back.
With the salaries being given to us now, I've got three coaches in my league that are making over a million dollars. They're worth it to their university. Okay? Sheri Coale, Gail and Kim Mulkey, they are worth it, particularly Kim at Baylor, because they're not winning in too many other sports at Baylor, but Kim Mulkey's got almost a lifetime contract that they can't afford to buy out if they even wanted her to go somewhere else or she wanted to go.
Why not? It's good. I have no buyout in my contract. My AD and myself, he knows this is my last job, and I'm going to go as long as I'm productive. And if I'm not productive, then I'm going to step aside and hopefully my assistant coach, Vic Schaefer, will be able to have that job.
Q. Question about Sydney Colson. You talk about a breakthrough for Texas A&M and maybe other players, but Colson has a chance to finish out her career against Pohlen who is highly regarded and Skylar Diggins, just what do you think that means for her as a point guard who you've seen develop who hasn't gotten the national recognition, typically, who is just kind of now getting it?
COACH BLAIR: Before we came over here, we had breakfast. And we watched the breakdown, offensive breakdown of the game. And Coach Schaefer was going bananas. We need to show Notre Dame.
I said, no, we need to show our team success and failure. Sydney Colson needs to sit there and look at the turnovers that she made and a couple of the bad decisions, and the good decisions.
And we go over that. And that's what Sydney has to realize. Now she's in going against these kids that are not freshmen like Odyssey Sims or some of the other young ones that were great during the season but not as great during the playoffs. Seniors are going to lay it out there on the table, because it's their last hurrah.
Sydney Colson is not going to be drafted in the first round. Pohlen is not going to be drafted in the first round. Hopefully they get a chance to continue to play, but their job, they're the CEO of their basketball teams. They are accountable. They are responsible. They're an extension of myself, and we have to be on the same page.
And I'm only as good as my point guard. And I'm also very partial to Indiana point guards because I had two of them at Arkansas that called every play for me for eight years. And so I'm glad to be playing for a national championship in the state of Indiana, where basketball was born.
And it is respected more than football is. So I think that's very important that people around here need to embrace it. If it's more important than football, where are you, Indianapolis? Where are you, fans? Let's come in from the little small towns, and let's just enjoy basketball. Pick a team to cheer for, but let's get out there and just have a great time on Tuesday night.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports