Coach of the Year: Adair Turns Team Around

When Natasha Adair was named head coach of the College of Charleston’s women’s basketball team in May 2012, she took over a program that had finished its 2011-2012 campaign at 7-23 — the team’s second losing record in as many seasons.

Two years later, when Adair made the decision to accept the head coaching position at Georgetown, the team she left behind at Charleston was vastly different from the one she had inherited.

In her brief tenure with the Cougars, Adair led the team to 16 wins in her first season, which was enough to earn it a spot at the Women’s Basketball Invitational.

The following year, the Cougars finished 19-15, which still stands as the third-best record in program history. After finishing third in the Colonial Athletic Association’s regular season rankings and reaching the semifinals of the conference’s postseason tournament, Adair became the first coach to ever lead the Cougars to back-to-back playoff berths. In its second straight appearance in the WBI, the College of Charleston made a run to the semifinals.

“I went to [the College of Charleston] with the expectation of rebuilding,” Adair said. “I didn’t go in with this ‘my way or the highway’ mentality. I went in and I talked to the players and I said to the seniors, ‘What do you want out of your senior year?’ they said, ‘We want to win, we want to leave a legacy, we want to have fun,’ and I told them that if they commit to working hard and they commit to trusting the process that we would get them there.”

The program awaiting Adair at Georgetown in 2014 was in disarray. The roster was without a single senior, and of the team’s returning players, few had previously seen significant playing time. To make matters worse, Adair would be the Hoyas’ third coach in three years.

The lack of experience and the high rate of turnover at the head coaching position translated into a disappointing first season for Adair. The Hoyas finished with a 4-27 record that included a 15-game losing streak to close out the season. Georgetown’s conference record of 2-16 was the worst in the Big East.

“The first year was hard,” Adair said. “But sometimes when you go through adversity you find out who is with you and you can go through it together. That adversity brought us closer than anything because when you go through turmoil and have ups and downs, people can scatter, people can divide, but our team stayed together and we fought through it.”

With a challenging first year behind her, Adair entered the 2015-2016 season with the goal of replicating the successful turnaround she had achieved at the College of Charleston. She was determined to leave Georgetown’s five seniors a legacy of which they could be proud.

“I leaned on my seniors. I told them I needed them. I wanted them to be leaders because this season was for them,” Adair said. “They had been through a lot, and they had experienced a lot in their time here. I just wanted to be able to give them happiness, and I wanted to give them an experience they wouldn’t forget.”

Adair delivered.

Georgetown won four times as many games in her second season as they did in her first, making it the team with the third-best season-to-season turnaround in the country. Projected during preseason to finish seventh in the Big East, the Hoyas defied expectations and closed out the season with two crucial conference wins that catapulted them to fifth place.

With the fifth seed, Georgetown earned a Big East tournament first round bye for the first time since 2012. The Hoyas would later receive an at-large bid for the Women’s National Invitational Tournament, marking their first postseason appearance in four years.

Adair had done it again. In only two years, she had taken a struggling team and turned it into a program to be reckoned with.

“This year was an eye opener for us. We didn’t really have anyone on the team that had experienced this kind of success,” Adair said. “We now know that we can beat and play with all the teams in the Big East, even the ones we haven’t beaten yet because we know it wasn’t a matter of what they did, it was a matter of what we didn’t do.”

Georgetown’s players have nothing but praise for their head coach.

“It was a good decision to bring Coach Adair in. I love playing for her,” sophomore guard Dorothy Adomako said. “She lets you play with freedom out there.”

Freshman guard Dionna White echoed Adomako’s sentiment.

“[Adair] is fun to play for, and she knows what she is talking about,” White said. “She doesn’t really try to change your game. You can play how you normally would want to play.”

Giving her players the confidence and the liberty to reach their potential is fundamental to Adair’s coaching philosophy.

“I tell each one of my players that they have a gift, and we want to expose that gift,” Adair said. “Everyone has a role so if there is something that you do well, then do what you do, and we will put the pieces around you to make sure every other area is covered. I don’t want the kids to be afraid. I want them to play with confidence.”

Although she is only a sophomore, Adomako said she appreciates Adair’s off-the-court presence and her commitment to ensuring that her players are prepared for life beyond basketball.

“[Adair] is doing a great job of teaching us the things that are going to help us when we graduate,” Adomako said.

The future is bright for women’s basketball at Georgetown. The team will return with their two leading scorers and All-Big East Second Team honorees, Adomako and White. Sophomore point guard DiDi Burton and junior forward Faith Woodward, who were both key to the team’s success last season, will also be back in the lineup for Georgetown. 

“Our team right now is hungrier than I’ve ever seen a team in 19 years of coaching,” Adair said. “They know we have unfinished business, and they know that we want to cut down a net. That is just what’s next. It’s about consistency and about knowing who we are and being that team night in and night out. And we will be that team.”

Adair has achieved remarkable successes as head coach for two teams. There is no telling what she and the Hoyas will accomplish in season three.

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