By Taylor Cooper
I remember getting my first phone call from Coach Blair. There was something in his voice when he talked about the game of basketball that drew me in. He understood the X’s and O’s. We talked about his time at Arkansas and coaching my high school coach Wendi Willits, who he says is “the best pure shooter” he has ever coached. He talked about the game with passion, reminding me of a version of myself. I was so star-struck after I hung up the phone. Here I was getting a phone call from Gary Blair, a man who had just been inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and won a National Championship in 2011. This man wanted me to play for him at Texas A&M University. The history and tradition behind the 12th man and everything Aggies stand for was something I wanted to be a part of. I always knew I wanted to be a basketball coach, so why not learn from the best?
My first year at A&M was a redshirt year for me. I was a transfer so I was only allowed to practice and go through 6 AM preseason workouts. I could not participate in games. This was a hard year for me but I embraced the opportunity to see the game from a different perspective. I spent most of that time playing with our men’s practice squad against my teammates helping them prepare for games.
My next two years, I battled two major shoulder injuries. The first year I dislocated my right shoulder and tore my labrum midway through the season during a practice. I decided to keep playing and put off surgery until after the season was over. The next year I dislocated my left shoulder — same exact injury, just different arm and different location. The recovery for these surgeries lasted about 6 months each, so I got to spend majority of my time with Radar. What would I have done without him? Everyone knows who Radar is, I mean they should… he and Jesus went to school together. He took me to all of my medical appointments, where he and Dr. Bramhal would always joke about how I have the second highest amount of anchors (18 screws) in my shoulders than any other athlete he’s ever done, including the football team.
During my red shirt year and while I was recovering through my injuries, I also spent a lot of time with Coach Jen Jones, who is our strength and conditioning coach. My first year here I literally thought she was going to kill me…LOL. The conditioning and weights were on a different level than what I was used too, but she was always positive and pushing us to be the best that we could be. It’s easy to say that now. What she put our team and I through was grueling. I did not realize how much I appreciated her until now. She was someone I could go to if I felt like I was ever struggling with my faith, and she also set up our community service. She emphasized and showed us how important it was to give back and to put others before ourselves.
Someone else who doesn’t get enough credit is Coach Wright. Everyone always loves reading about us signing top recruits but they don’t understand how much hard work and time is put into those moments. She is a work horse behind the scenes. The phone calls, letters, emails, time on the road, flying to watch kids play, and the amount of hours she spends in the gym as well as watching film. I’m convinced that she stays busy 24/7. She cares about this program and does everything she can to try to bring in the best, year in and year out. If I could take away one thing that learned one thing from her, it wouldn’t be anything that she has said to me over the years even though a lot of that has helped me become better as a player; it would be through her actions. She showed me that it’s ok to do all the dirty work and not necessarily get the credit or be in the spotlight for all of it.
The next one I want to talk about is Coach Bond. She has always been someone that I have admired. On the basketball court Coach Bond is an offensive genius. She picks apart and exploits mismatches against every team that we face; the woman knows what she is doing. However, off the court she is a wife and a mother to her beautiful baby girl Lauryn. She treated me like I was her own daughter. If I was sick she would always make some of her chicken noodle soup and bring it to me. If I was home sick, needed to talk about school or relationship advice she was always there for me, no matter what it was. To understand her background and see the strong successful woman that she has made herself into makes me want to do the same. She knows how to balance being one of the top assistant coaches in the country and having a family by doing things the right way, the Aggie Way.
The next one is Coach Blair, one of my favorite people in the game of basketball. I’m not going to lie and say that my years of playing here were perfect. Anyone who has played for Coach Blair knows that he is a hard person to play for. He knows so much about the game and he expects us to know it too. One of his biggest pet peeves is what he calls “dumb dumb plays”. These are plays in practice or games that show your lack of basketball IQ. He has so much respect for the game that stuff like that gets under his skin. He knows how to have fun with it though. He’s an old school guy so some of our girls don’t get his jokes but believe me, he is hilarious. One of the things that I have always respected him for is how involved he is in the community and working with special needs kids. Those are things that aren’t in his job description but he does it anyway because he cares — just like he cares about every kid he coaches. He is also really big on academics, which is why every player he has coached that finished school at Texas A&M has graduated. One of the biggest takeaways that I have learned from him is to not take any shortcuts if you want to be successful.
Everyone knows who I saved for last, Coach Starkey. He and his wife Mrs. Sherie were my second set of parents away from home. I actually have my own room at their house – LOL (for my rehab stints or when I wasn’t feeling well). Although I am probably the favorite now instead of him in his own house, I was blessed to have such an amazing role model and mentor at the same time. He cared about my life outside of basketball while simultaneously oozing out information and cool stories of past players and coaches he’s worked with on a daily basis. One of the things that stood out to me was how important his relationships are with people. Coach Starkey showed me what it means to truly care about your players and is one of the main reasons that I am going to get into coaching. He doesn’t just talk the talk he walks the walk. One of his favorite quotes he would put on our scouting reports was “It’s not the will to win; it’s the will to prepare to win that is important.” I have learned so much about the game of basketball and how to prepare for games by just being around him. He is a detail-orientated guy and it’s the little things that make a difference. He has been a father figure to me and will always hold a special place in my heart.
My time at Texas A&M has been the best four years of my life. I not only became a better basketball player but more importantly a better woman. Nothing came easy to me and for that I am grateful. I was taught patience and hard work while at the same time having to earn everything that I was given. Now I feel like I am prepared for life after basketball. Thank you to the fans, the 12th Man, my teammates/sisters, and a big thanks to my coaches. They have been role models to me, through the good and the bad, and I have learned every step along the way.