George Mason University introduced new women’s basketball coach Vanessa Blair-Lewis on Wednesday at EagleBank Arena, trumpeting her ability to build relationships—and a winning program.
Blair-Lewis, the ninth coach in program history, comes to Mason from Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida. She told the supportive crowd on hand that she does not consider her profession as coaching. To her, it’s “a ministry.”
“A long time ago I realized it wasn’t about the X’s and O’s,” said Blair-Lewis, who grew up in the Washington, D.C., suburbs in Prince George’s County, Maryland and played for her father, Bob, at Largo High School. “It’s about pouring into the lives of young people to make them better now and for the future.”
Blair-Lewis led Bethune-Cookman to four Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) championships and five postseason berths, including the program’s first trip to the NCAA tournament in 2019. Prior to her arrival, the program had posted two winning seasons in 19 years.
The four-time MEAC coach of the year inherits another challenge at Mason. The Patriots went winless in the Atlantic 10 Conference last season.
“We really started out to find someone who had a blueprint for how to build a program,” Mason Vice President/Director of Athletics Brad Edwards said, “and who also understands the strong commitment to the student-athletes’ well-being, to an inclusive culture and community involvement. I’m very proud to say that Vanessa Blair-Lewis is that coach and is that leader.”
“You don’t get in first place overnight, nor do you get in last place overnight,” said Blair-Lewis, who met with her Mason players before the press conference. “It’s a place they don’t want to be. And it’s a place we don’t want to be. We have such an important responsibility to, yes, win a lot of games, but we have a bigger responsibility to win in the lives of these young people.”
Announced Tuesday as the new head coach, Blair-Lewis had been mentioned as a candidate for other coaching jobs during the 2015 to 2020 period when her Bethune-Cookman teams posted a 107-48 record, including 68-12 in the MEAC.
She said she was waiting for the right opportunity, comparing it to her young son accumulating tickets at a carnival to take home a coveted prize he pointed out high on a shelf instead of settling for a lesser one.
“I wanted that one right here,” Blair-Lewis said of the Mason job, “way up there.”
“Coach Blair-Lewis will do at Mason what she has always done,” Mason President Gregory Washington said. “A) win. And B), more importantly, she will provide opportunities for young women and help them to develop in ways that will transcend the court.”