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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Women’s basketball gets new attitude


Since Texas A&M Athletic Director Bill Byrne arrived in College Station a little more than a year ago, he has upgraded A&M athletics to provide a product that will not only compete at the national level in every sport, but also entertain Aggie fans.
One only has to look at his first and only coaching hire to understand what Byrne is trying to bring to A&M athletics.
On March 31, 2003, Byrne hired Gary Blair to replace the recently ousted Peggie Gillom to take over as head coach of A&M women’s basketball.
Blair was hired away from the University of Arkansas where he posted a 198-120 record over 10 seasons, becoming Arkansas’ all-time winningest head coach.
“At this point in my career, I wasn’t looking for a job, but sometimes a great job comes looking for you,” Blair said when he was hired. “There are not a lot of coaches that would leave a program they’ve built into the top 25, but I had a lot of reasons. Texas is my home state, and I’ve been familiar with Texas A&M for a long time. I know what kind of program A&M can be, and I want to be the architect to get it done.”
If Blair wants to build A&M into a national power, he has a lot of work ahead of him. The Aggies have not placed higher than ninth in the Big 12 conference since its inception in 1996.
But Blair’s energy is already being felt in Aggieland, even if the team has a losing record and has gone winless in conference play through six games.
Blair has gone all out in trying to get fans to attend games. He has devised a way to get corporations to sponsor games where fans get in free. Blair has been accommodating to the media, speaking to them at any time of the day. He has even gone so far as walking door-to-door through Bryan and College Station handing out tickets so people will come see his team.
And for a sport where many Aggies would have had to be paid to attend games in seasons past, Blair’s magic seems to be working.
Aggie students and fans have come out in droves, at least by A&M women’s basketball standards, to see the women play. A year ago, 72 fans were counted on the south side of Reed Arena when the Aggies faced Texas. This Sunday when the Aggies welcomed the No. 3 Longhorns back to Reed for their 2004 showdown, 4,336 fans came to watch.
Twice the Aggies have broken single-game home attendance records, and they will most likely set a new season home attendance mark as well.
Now that Blair has reached the community, he can start working on the product he puts on the floor. So far, he is doing a superb job there, too.
Sure, Blair’s troops are winless in conference, but nobody expected this team to win games, or even be competitive. Instead, the Aggies have put up a fight in all of their ballgames. Only in their loss to Nebraska were the Aggies outscored by more than 10 points.
No. 16 Baylor had to come back from a 16 point halftime deficit to beat the Aggies, and Texas barely escaped Reed Arena with a two-point victory.
There is no doubt that the Aggies are outmatched just about every time they step on the floor, but Blair has gotten his team to play outside of themselves. Blair has gotten his team to believe that they can play with anyone in the country, and so far they have.
Even with the mounting losses, Blair’s team is playing good basketball, something that hasn’t been seen since Lynn Hickey held Blair’s job in 1994.
With Blair’s excellent 30-year track record, it should be just a matter of time before the Aggies turn those close loses into wins. At Arkansas, Blair turned a two-year losing team into a NCAA Tournament team with a 23-7 record two years later.
And with one of the top recruiting classes in the nation already inked for the 2004-05 season, Blair has put Lady Aggie basketball on the national landscape. In the middle of Texas, one of the largest hotbeds of women’s prep basketball, Blair is awakening a potential sleeping giant.
Blair was the best possible hire for A&M’s women’s basketball program. But don’t fall in the trap of thanking just Blair when the Aggies reach national prominence. Be sure to thank Byrne as well.

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