Today, Natasha is Coach Adair, or Coach A to those who pass by her office on the third floor of College of Charleston’s TD Arena. It’s a prestigious position in women’s college sports. And expectations are high, even just two years in. Adair served as assistant coach at Georgetown and Wake Forest before joining the College hoops program in May 2012. The year before Adair took over; the Cougars had suffered through a 7-23 season.
Coaches aren’t expected to win right away, but if you do, people notice. Under Adair, the Cougars have been resurgent, winning 16 games in her first year at the helm and earning a berth in the Women’s Basketball Invitational (a 16-team postseason tournament just below the WNIT in the women’s hoops postseason pecking order).
This year, in her second season, with the added challenge of the school’s acceptance into the more competitive Colonial Athletic Association, the Cougars have been even better. As of this week, their win total stands at 19 games, with victories over four different teams who played postseason ball last year. It was more than enough to earn them another berth to the WBI – marking the first time in the school’s D-1 history that the Cougars will be playing in back-to-back postseasons. All this in less than 24 short months as coach.
Coach Adair leans back in her chair and looks out a large window that makes up the back wall of her office overlooking downtown Charleston. In a room flush with sunlight, she talks about instilling a winning culture in her program, cultivating young student-athletes on and off the court who will fill the locker room with competitive fire, who are brave enough to be the best they can be – for the greater good of the team.
A picture of her family sits on her desk; they are all smiling.
Times are good for Adair and the College women’s hoops program. But success hasn’t always come easily for Adair.
She never wanted to be one of the guys, but she was determined to play with them. It was 1990 and Adair was just known as Natasha, a gangly 6-foot-1-inch 17-year-old. She loved track and field, but when her junior year came around, she knew it had to be basketball.
Adair had been honing her jumper and practicing her jab step with the boys at nearby Pamander Park, the epicenter of the local hoops scene, just a hundred yards away from her childhood home. It was here that she went head to head with some of the best players in the neighborhood. But she had some help.
Whenever possible, Adair and her father, Bobby Barnes, an employee at the Bureau of Engraving in Washington D.C., would make sure they played on the same team. Barnes –known for his silky fade-away jumper – was the court’s undisputed general.
“My dad could go,” Adair says laughingly, many years later. “He had a pretty J and he loved the midrange game. He would get out on the court with his socks pulled up real high and his little Magic Johnson shorts – you couldn’t tell him nothing.”
Someone else used to join in regularly with Natasha and her dad. It was a neighborhood kid named Aaron, who’d moved to the area from Ohio a few years before. He was a good player, and was always complimentary of Natasha’s game. “Good shot, Tash,” he would say, even when other boys thought it was out of the ordinary to have a girl on a pick-up basketball team.
Ten years later, on August 24, 2000, Adair and Aaron – surrounded by 16 of their best friends in Magens Bay, on St. Thomas in the idyllic U.S. Virgin Islands – would be married. (Today they have two children.)
“It all started there at Pamander Court. Aaron, my Dad and I, playing ball. It was perfect.” says Adair.
From sharpening her game on the outdoor court, Adair soon became known for her prowess on the hardwood at Einstein High School, where she averaged a double-double. Over one 10-game stretch her junior year she averaged 16 points and 18 rebounds per outing. It wasn’t long before college coaches took note and began lining up outside the Adair home.
One such coach was a young, confident man from Connecticut named Geno Auriemma, who was just beginning to build a program. He wore a nice suit, and loafers without socks. He talked about his vision for the future in which Adair would play alongside another preseason high school All-American, Rebecca Lobo. Syracuse came knocking, so too did South Florida.
One night in October, it all changed.
It was a preseason game against Wilson High School. Natasha had gone up for a routine rebound. There was no one around her. When she landed she heard a pop, felt a surging pain and screamed.
“I remember the gym was silent,” says Adair. “I was lying there on the court, in a lot of pain, clutching my knee. Just a minute prior, I was a 17-year-old girl with a bright future who thought she had it all figured out. Now I was scared. I was completely humbled.”
The ambulance seemed to take forever to arrive.
No one knew too much about what a knee injury meant, but people were worried. “When you tore your ACL in 1990, it wasn’t like it is today,” says Adair. “The doctors told me that I would recover, but I probably wouldn’t be the same player ever again.”
Learning to Win
Today Adair and her No. 2 seed College of Charleston women’s basketball team are preparing for their biggest game of the season. Stephen F. Austin is coming to Charleston, and the The Ladyjacks from Nacogdoches, Texas, are no pushover: they were picked to win the Southland Conference in the preseason coaches’ poll, finished the season 22–12 and just barely missed out on a bid to the NCAA Tournament. They have a dominant shot-blocker in Porsha Roberts and are extremely deep, with eight players averaging over five points per outing.
But expectations are high for the College. It’s a golden opportunity – a chance to win a championship, something that feels elusive to a lot of people around here. Earlier this month, at a practice prior to the conference tournament, Adair brought out a ladder so her team could take turns learning how to properly cut down the net.
“It’s all part of learning how to win,” says Adair. “We have set standards here on and off the court as winners. These standards will help our student-athletes transition successfully into the real world. It’s bigger than just the WBI. It’s bigger than just basketball.”
Like Mother, Like Daughter
A few months ago, Natasha brought her daughter, Ally, to the local YMCA. Ally – who at 8-years-old has dreams of becoming a fashion designer – seemed excited, but she wondered if she was in the wrong league. Her mom had signed her up for co-ed basketball. Nervously, Ally looked at her mother and said, “But mommy, it’s all boys on the team.”
“It’s okay, Ally, mommy grew up playing with the boys too.”
Story written by Ryan Madden, Assistant Director of Athletics Communications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 843.953.5465.