Q&A with Vanessa Blair-Lewis


How have you been able to make such dramatic progress in a short time?

Usually when you get hired, you have to wait for four classes to leave before you start bringing in all “your people.” We didn’t start with that mindset. [The existing team was] my people when I got the job. What the girls felt and what I leaned into is that you’re welcome here. And that was just our motto: With who you are right now, you’re welcome. So whatever we all have here, it’s enough for us to bring it together and try to do something great. We were believing big for moments that we knew were going to happen.

Vanessa Blair-Lewis
Photo by Ron Aira

One of your primary strengths as a coach is relationship building. How do you create and maintain a consistent culture when players come and go every year, including transfers from other college programs?

The summer is our time. It’s our “intimate moment,” as we call it. That’s when we get a chance to find out who these student-athletes are as people and then that trajectory takes us into the season. We have Fun Fridays [where] we pick out something that’s not basketball or weightlifting, like rope climbing or hot yoga. We talk about controversial issues, political issues so we can get things on the table and know more about who our sisters are, what they struggle with. It may not be what you struggle with. But how can we lean into each other? We want to build their bodies, minds, and spirits.

You have international players and players from across the country, as well as players who grew up locally. How much of a recruiting advantage is Mason’s location?

We live in a corridor right now where our students graduate and get six-figure salaries. And the whole time you’re being prepared. We want to make sure they’re not just women who play basketball, but women who can do anything they want to do in the world. There are internships. There are alumni who want to hire athletes because they know what comes with that—a hard-working, stay-up-late, and get-there-early kind of mentality.

You recently signed a contract extension through the 2027–28 season. What does that say about your commitment to Mason and Mason’s commitment to you?

I really think [university leadership] saw the vision and what we were producing, not just on the court but [with] our young women holistically. It made me feel really great because I didn’t want to be anywhere else. This is home for me. When you’re in a relationship and the other person feels the same way about you that you feel about them, it’s definitely a happy place to be.

Six different schools have won the past six Atlantic 10 women’s basketball tournament titles. Mason could make it seven….

It’s wide open. We told our girls, “The journey is 20-plus wins, and the tourney.” That’s our nifty little slogan. That’s what we want to go get this year. The hunger is there.