Former Mississippi State women’s basketball forward Ketara Chapel didn’t know she’d become close friends and teammates with her high school basketball rival, Blair Schaefer.
“Hate is a strong word,” Chapel said. “I’d say our team disliked Blair just because she was so good … It wasn’t even her team; it was just Blair.”
A few years and a few Final Four appearances later, Chapel can also add fellow coach to that list. Both Chapel and Blair now serve on Vic Schaefer’s coaching staff at Texas, along with former Mississippi State guards Dominique Dillingham and Jazzmun Holmes.
The four former teammates helped pull off a historic upset in 2017 against a UConn team with a 111-game winning streak. Dillingham and Chapel passed along a winning tradition to Mississippi State as a part of the winningest class in program history and hope to bring similar success to Austin.
The teammates’ time together goes back all the way to high school rivalries and AAU ball when Blair, Texas’ director of player development, and Dillingham, Texas’ video coordinator, were teammates.
“When Coach Schaefer started recruiting Ketara, it was kind of awkward for me because we used to go at it on the court,” Blair said. “Our teams were huge rivals and enemies … but when you put both of us on a team, we played so well together.”
Chapel knew she wanted to go into coaching from an early age, but it wasn’t the same experience for Blair or Dillingham.
“I had a couple of injuries, and I love basketball,” Dillingham said. “I’ve played basketball my entire life. So it was something I wanted to continue, and I knew I could do that through coaching.”
Dillingham became the first of the four to join Vic’s coaching staff at Mississippi State when she became a graduate assistant in the 2017-2018 season, before becoming a video coordinator the past two years. For Blair, her route to coaching was less direct.
“I went into TV and was an SEC analyst for ESPN for a year,” Blair said. “I thought that’s what I wanted to do, and I put my heart and soul into that. So when that didn’t work out, I realized I do want to coach because I want that reassurance that I’m impacting other people.”
However, it didn’t take long for Blair, Dillingham and Chapel to jump in and embrace their roles.
“I’d always thought of Blair as a teammate and player,” Chapel said. “But the first time I saw her on a sideline coaching, I was like, ‘Oh, she’s a coach for sure.’ It just felt like she was born to be a coach.”
Their experience playing for Vic, known for his tough practices and his aggressive coaching scheme, helps them relate to the current players, Dillingham said.
“We've been through the wars,” Dillingham said. “We know what to expect from Coach (Schaefer), we've been through his practices. So when someone's having a bad day … we can push them.”
One player Dillingham and the others pushed was Holmes, who finished her last season as a guard at Mississippi State in the 2018-2019 season and will make her own leap from player to coach when she joins the rest of her former teammates in Austin as a graduate assistant.
“It’s been a blessing to be able to learn from our coaches and then be able to be on staff with them and also be able to learn with Ketara, Blair and now Jazz,” Dillingham said. “Just being able to keep those relationships is amazing. Lots of staffs have high turnover rates, so just being able to stay together has been awesome.”