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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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Gary Blair’s final court with Gary Blair Court

Students+hold+up+copies+of+The+Eagle+and+Thank+You%2C+Coach+Blair+signs%2C+as+Coach+Blair+passes+out+candy+in+Reed+Arena+on+Thursday%2C+Feb.+24%2C+2022.
Photo by Photo by Robert O’Brien

Students hold up copies of The Eagle and “Thank You, Coach Blair” signs, as Coach Blair passes out candy in Reed Arena on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022.

As fans filed their way into Reed Arena, walked through the corridors of Aggie basketball’s mecca and navigated their way to the maroon and black fold-down seats that decorate the edges of Texas A&M’s hardwood, an energy was apparent in the stadium. This one was more than a basketball game.
Meanwhile, a familiar face was making his rounds up and down the bleachers, zigging and zagging through the columns and rows of the crowd. Raining down on everyone, whether they were Gamecocks or Aggies or neither, was that signature candy that filled up his bucket. Kids, teens and adults stood up, cheering and clapping for him — after all, it was his day, wasn’t it? That’s why everyone had signs that read “THANK YOU, COACH BLAIR,” right?
“We got everyone here for you,” Head Yell Leader Memo Salinas said to long-time A&M women’s basketball coach Gary Blair before the game in a private one-on-one discussion. It was Blair’s final time coaching a college game in College Station. After all, it was his day.
The countdown on the shot clocks above the basketball hoops slowly ticked down — 30, 20, 10 — signifying to all the attendees the beginning of the A&M women’s basketball game against No. 1 South Carolina. But on Thursday, Feb. 24, this countdown didn’t feel like it was counting down to a beginning. It was counting down to the end of an era.
After 19 years and 444 wins in Aggieland, none larger than the championship run in 2011, Steve Miller shouted to the stadium not too soon after those shot clocks hit triple-zeroes: “Welcome to Gary Blair Court.”
And for the 1,198th time in his NCAA Division I career, nearly 50 years after his career began at South Oak Cliff High School in Dallas, the ball was tipped off at midcourt to begin another 40-minute grudge match.
Then, almost poetically, the final home game for A&M’s longest-tenured women’s basketball head coach was opened up with a layup by A&M’s longest-tenured women’s basketball player: graduate guard Kayla Wells.
Wells, in her final of five seasons with the Aggies, is the team’s leading scorer with over 16 points per game. She has the most games played and is top-five all time in scoring in program history. Wells is the most experienced player on Blair’s final roster.
The first half came to a close with the top-ranked Gamecocks ahead 42-21, but not before junior guard Jordan Nixon ended the second quarter wowing the crowd with her crafty play. The team’s leading assist-getter this season hit a turnaround baseline fadeaway and a step-back jumpshot which both sunk into the net before the buzzer sounded.
During his final halftime in that Reed Arena home locker room as the team’s head coach, Blair told his team to continue to focus on defending the paint and to continue to fight, graduate guard Destiny Pitts said.
The Aggies returned to the court but struggled with the task of containing the Gamecocks’ double-headed attack of junior forward Aliyah Boston and senior guard Destanni Henderson. The duo ended the game with 35 combined points in 46 minutes of play.
Yet, as that clock trickled down, the final buzzer roared and the backboards shined bright with red LED lights, the home fans didn’t mind that the scoreboard read 89-48. Regardless, “Gary Blair” chants echoed around the stadium.
A commemoration video and a pair of salute speeches ended the night before Blair took to the court with a final speech where he said he wasn’t going anywhere and was ready to continue building up the community.
“Why do I do it? I love it. I think I can make a difference in people’s lives,” Blair said.
“This is a ‘we’ floor. Not a ‘me’ floor,” Blair said. He invited the crowd down to the hardwood for pictures with and autographs from the team, egging on one last “Saw Varsity’s horns off” chant from the Aggies in attendance.
Moments later behind the closed doors of the concrete box below the stands known as the press conference room, Wells walked her way in quietly after soaking in the game and the moment.
“I’m sorry,” she said, choked up, eyes watered and tears leaking their way down the sides of her cheek bones. Hands on her face, Wells tried to psych herself up for the moment. “It’s the same to me. Alright. I’m ready. I’m ready. I’m ready. I’m ready,” she said to herself, reminding herself of the dozens of pressers she’s attended in the past — but this one was different.
As much as this was Blair’s day, it wasn’t just his day, something he tried to make clear on numerous occasions. Pitts had said that Blair tried to keep the focus of the team on South Carolina and not him. For Wells, Pitts and a number of other seniors and graduate students on the court, this was their final home game as well.
“This is my last game at A&M,” Wells said through intermittent sniffles and heavy breaths. “I love it here, you know? I wish I could stay another year. No, let’s not get too crazy. But this university owes me nothing, it’s given me everything I’ve wanted.”
This season — albeit which isn’t over quite yet — did not pan out at the level of an average Blair season. Sitting 14-13 overall, 4-11 in SEC competition, the Aggies have lost five games thus far by twenty or more points, none by a wider margin than the final home game.
Blair said this 2021-22 A&M women’s basketball team never quite gelled as he expected. In the past, he had cited reasons like lack of speed and depth as explanations for the discrepancy. Despite this, thousands of fans filled Reed Arena, cheering the team on until the final horn.
In mid-January, Blair said in an interview with The Battalion this was a goal of his for the season.
“I would like to fill this stadium up one night one more time,” Blair said. “I would like to see people come out and see my work and my staff’s work of the last 50 years. Then, I’ve painted my LeRoy Neiman picture or my Rembrandt [van Rijn], because this is what’s going to be lasting. It’s going to be a lasting memory of doing things the right way, the Aggie way, and hopefully signed at the bottom: ‘By Gary Blair and the people with Gary Blair.’”
Now, Blair’s signature is literally marked on the hardwood in Reed Arena. A permanent reminder of all the lives he has impacted over his years — his LeRoy Neiman and his Rembrandt.
Editor’s Note: Jordan Nixon is an opinion writer for The Battalion.

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