April 8, 2021 

Vanessa Blair-Lewis comes home to George Mason

What the start of the Blair-Lewis era means for the Patriots

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Coach Vanessa Blair-Lewis on the sideline at Bethune-Cookman University Photo Credit: Romeo Guzman Photography

New George Mason head coach Vanessa Blair-Lewis grew up 38 miles from her new office — in Mitchellville, Maryland, weekends spent playing basketball in the Recreation Athletic Complex on Mason’s campus. 

So when the George Mason job opened up, it wasn’t just a professional opportunity. It was a homecoming.

“When I first heard the news that George Mason was open and that there could be a possibility that I would be able to interview with it, I really just kind of went from 0 to 100 real quick,” Blair-Lewis said at her introductory press conference. “I was so excited at the possibility of coming back home and being able to build something at Mason. I grew up in this area and we always looked at George Mason as such a prestigious and esteemed place … This couldn’t be a better fit.”

Blair-Lewis played her collegiate basketball at Mount Saint Mary’s before playing two years of professional basketball in Sweden. She ranks seventh all-time in scoring (1,488), third in rebounds (849) and rebounds per game (8.9), and first in blocked shots (242). 

After a knee injury cut her playing career short she assisted her father at Largo (Md.) High School and coached AAU basketball as well, before returning to Mount Saint Mary’s as an assistant coach in 1996. 

In 1998, at the age of 24, she became the Mount’s head coach and led the team to 120 wins. After leaving, she went to Bethune-Cookman, where she would amass a 196-168 record on the way to becoming a four-time MEAC Coach of the Year. Blair-Lewis led the Wildcats to their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance in 2019. 

She decided it was time to leave BCU because she wanted to reach the higher echelons of college basketball. 

“She’s a proven winner. That goes without saying, she built a program at Bethune-Cookman that prior to her arrival had only had two winning seasons in the 19 years prior to her arrival,” Mason Athletic Director Brad Edwards said.

He added, “It’s hard to win. I mean, it’s a competitive business and that is hard to do, year in and year out, but she met that challenge.”

Throughout her press conference, she mentioned that teams do not get to first place overnight and teams do not get to last place overnight. She knows the team does not want to remain in last place.

“Getting on that same page, initially, that this is not a place we want to be,” Blair-Lewis said. “So what are we going to do about it internally to start changing that — and it starts with the mindset and the heart will follow. So we just want to be able to do that to be able to take those steps where we connect together with the same goal in mind and work towards that.”

During her conversations with Mason’s President Dr. Gregory Washington, basketball was not discussed. Instead, her relationships with her players past and present were. 

“We’ve talked about her invitations to kids’ birthday parties, and to funerals of the athletes’ parents. I had all I needed to know,” Washington said. “Coach Blair-Lewis will do at Mason what she has always done: A. Win and B. More importantly, she will provide opportunities for young women and she will help them to develop in ways that will transcend the court.”

Growing up, Blair-Lewis never saw herself as a basketball coach. She saw what a headache it was first hand when her dad was her high school’s emergency coach, but going from Largo High School to Mount St. Mary’s, both family environments, made her believe that coaching could be a path for her. 

“It was so enjoyable — the outcome to not just see young women win games but to see young women win in life,” she said. “That’s a big part of the excitement to come back home and to pour into these young girls that walked the exact path that I walked and played in some of the same gyms that I played in … and to give these women an opportunity to dream.”

Written by Natalie Heavren

Natalie Heavren has been covering women’s basketball since February 2019 and currently covers both the Atlantic 10 and the WNBA.

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