Schaefer father-daughter duo leads Mississippi State to first Final Four

DALLAS -- According to family folklore as recounted by his son, Mississippi State women's basketball coach Vic Schaefer is enough of a country music aficionado that he serenaded his wife, Holly, an Arkansas native, at their wedding with a rendition of George Strait's iconic "All My Ex's Live In Texas."

While basketball may pay the bills, country music is well within his wheelhouse. So when Logan, Schaefer's son, plays a gig with his country band in or around Starkville, Mississippi, there can be some blurring of the line between the dad who always makes sure to feed the tip jar and the coach who makes a living offering constructive criticism.

"Hey, buddy, you've got some better songs on your set list than that one," Logan said of a message the elder might deliver after a gig. "I pretty much know that means don't play that one again."

Logan can find the humor when he and Blair, his twin sister, sit down at one of the family meals that still take place at home -- even as the college students live on their own -- and Vic asks Blair how basketball practice went that day. He tries his best to ease into dad mode. Only for Blair, perhaps after a particularly frustrating day on the court, to reply that he knows how it went. He was there. He is the coach.

"He's just trying to be dad at that point," Logan said. "And she's just being smart. It's funny."

While much of the familial focus at this Final Four will be on the potential clash of sisters Karlie Samuelson, a senior at Stanford, and Katie Lou Samuelson, a sophomore at Connecticut, it isn't the only case study. There has been a parent-child connection in the Final Four in the past -- Baylor coach Kim Mulkey and daughter Makenzie Robertson winning a title together in 2012 -- but Vic and Blair Schaefer are the first father-daughter combination to reach this stage.

Their journey isn't merely a pleasant story with limited basketball ramifications. Though used sparingly off the bench for stretches of the regular season, Blair averaged 13.5 points in the team's first four NCAA tournament wins. That production included a big second half when Mississippi State pulled away from DePaul in what had been a tight second-round encounter, and a big first half to help keep a Sweet 16 game against Washington from turning against the Bulldogs early on.

Only Victoria Vivians has more 3-pointers for Mississippi State this season.

"It's really been unique and special," Vic said this week of the chance to coach his daughter. "Obviously, she's earned her way. She's been a big contributor throughout her career, but really down the stretch she's had some big minutes for us, made some big shots."

She isn't the only family member who had to prove she belonged, of course. The profile picture on Vic's Facebook page is of his family cutting down the net after Texas A&M won the 2011 national championship. Then a longtime assistant coach with the Aggies, there were questions as to whether he would forever remain in that role. There were questions what he would do in his first head coaching position in 15 years, when Mississippi State hired him in 2012. Here the Bulldogs are.

"I'm just so proud of him, as a daughter and just as a player," Blair said. "Seeing a coach or a dad do what he does -- not many people see what he does behind the scenes. But five out of the seven days of the week he stays at the office because he's working so late. He has a couch in his office, and he'll watch film as long as he can, then he'll take like an hour nap, wake back up and keep working. Not many people see that aspect to him and his success."

"As long as we're on the court, it's strictly business and it's strictly coach and player. At the same time, we understand I'm playing for him and he's coaching for me. And we're enjoying the process of being father and daughter." Blair Schaefer

She knows because she grew up with it. A doctor or an accountant's kid might never see a parent's work environment. For a basketball family, where the kids spend their summers shooting at dad's summer camps or their winters mopping courts, work bleeds more easily into life.

Vic told a story during last week's regional about the moment in middle school when Blair had to make a choice as to whether her dad would be just that, her dad, or her dad at home and her coach around the basketball court. She chose the second option. Both say it hasn't been difficult to keep those two worlds separate, but the dinner story suggests it also doesn't come without some work. Few people in college basketball are better equipped to understand the dynamic than Mississippi State assistant Carly Thibault, daughter of longtime WNBA coach Mike Thibault.

As she put it, she's been the one who had to avoid taking it personally when dad yelled at her like any other player.

"I love being kind of a sounding board for Blair," Thibault said in Dallas. "Obviously I've been in her shoes a lot in my lifetime. She does a really good job of separating dad and coach. I give her a lot of credit there. But you're still going to have times where you get frustrated, so I feel like we have a really good relationship, where maybe I can help her through a frustrating day."

It also doesn't hurt to have a twin around campus, perhaps in the case of the Schaefers more than most. It was 2011 when Blair and Vic raced home from a basketball tournament in Ohio after Logan had been seriously injured in a wakeboarding accident. From uncertainty that he would even survive, an arduous rehabilitation process followed. Logan is a brother and a son, but also a reminder that it is not worth letting any argument linger too long.

"It's cool just to have people you're close with, just to have an outlet to talk with them," Blair said. "In case you ever need to talk about life or anything like that, because I know college athletics is really hard and school is hard. You put it all together and it's a big circle of hard stuff. Just having anybody that you're close with or that you can have the special outlet with, with it so confidential at the same time, is really important."

Asked how much of her dad she'll see this week, as opposed to her coach, Blair suggested it was about 50-50. The moments when he told her to enjoy the experience, that she had earned it, felt like a dad talking to his daughter. Perhaps the line dancing Blair, Vic and Logan did Wednesday night felt more like a family bonding moment, too. But the message that this wasn't about just getting here, that was a coach's reminder.

"As long as we're on the court, it's strictly business and it's strictly coach and player," Blair said. "At the same time, we understand I'm playing for him and he's coaching for me. And we're enjoying the process of being father and daughter."

A daughter, Logan suggested, who is in many ways a cookie cutter copy of her father. Two people who share more than a last name.

"It's really, really special to be able to play for your dad," Thibault said. "I think Blair and her dad have a great relationship. It's so special to watch them grow together and succeed together and be a family. The coolest thing about it, the fact that she plays for her dad, is he treats all of these girls like they are his daughters.

"He's got an understanding for what it's like to have a daughter who plays basketball."