Winning on the court and at life drives new Mason women’s basketball coach Vanessa Blair-Lewis

Vanessa Blair-Lewis 1
Vanessa Blair-Lewis at Wednesday’s introductory press conference at Mason’s EagleBank Arena. Photo by Ron Aira/Creative Services

Vanessa Blair-Lewis sees coaching basketball as “a ministry” more than a job, but her career almost didn’t happen.

George Mason University’s new women’s basketball coach was just a few years removed from her collegiate playing days when she headed to her alma mater, Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsberg, Maryland, to rehabilitate a knee she injured while playing professionally in Sweden.

The daughter of a high school coach, Blair-Lewis never envisioned coaching in her future, but agreed to join the coaching staff there while hoping to resume her playing career. But in September 1998, Mount St. Mary’s longtime coach suddenly announced in September 1998 that he was retiring and that he and the school’s athletics director wanted Blair-Lewis as his successor.

The news was a shock to Blair-Lewis as she was preparing to attend law school at the University of Virginia. As it turned out, she found her true calling along the sidelines.

“I never wanted to be a coach while coming up,” Blair-Lewis said following Wednesday’s introductory press conference at Mason’s EagleBank Arena. “But I accepted the position, and God had a career path ahead for me. It’s truly been a ministry.”

A four-time Northeastern Conference coach of the year while at Mount St. Mary’s, and a four-time coach of the year during her next 13 seasons at Bethune-Cookman University, Blair-Lewis inherits a Patriots team that failed to win an Atlantic 10 Conference game last season.

“I’m very excited,” said Mason center Jazmyn Doster, a rising junior. “Her speech inspired a lot of excitement and hope for the future.”

Blair-Lewis’ legacy extends well beyond the court.

“She is the best coach in the country, but an even better person,” said Chandler McCabe, who was Blair-Lewis’ associate head coach at Bethune-Cookman and will follow her to Fairfax. “When we recruit kids, we want them to be with us for four years, but we want to be in their life for the rest of those years.”

It’s more than just lip service for Blair-Lewis. She and her husband, NBA referee Eric Lewis, have opened their home and housed several former players until they got on their feet following their graduations.

Developing players will always be important, but making sure they turn into people who can make a difference in society after their playing days is even more important.

“A long time ago, I realized that it wasn’t about the X’s and O’s,” Blair-Lewis said. “It’s about pouring into the lives of young people to make them better now and for the future.”