RCW: Home is where the heart is
For graduate-transfer Lisa Blair home isn’t just where she grew up and her family isn’t just those she was raised with, as Kansas and the KU women’s basketball team have become her home and family away from home.
A house is simply numerous walls with windows and doors that is held together by a roof. A house becomes a home because of the people who share it, whether it be family, friends or even teammates. Senior forward Lisa Blair has lived in several houses in various locations, but it’s the family she is surrounded by that has made each a home.
Whether she’s in Brooklyn, New York or Lawrence, Kansas, Blair’s family and new second family, Kansas women’s basketball, has made wherever she is living at the moment feel like home, which are two important things to the graduate transfer from Ohio State.
Long before Blair was born, her mother’s family decided to leave Jamaica and make a new home in New York. That opportunity has opened doors for everyone in Blair’s family over the years, but also proved the value and importance in family.
“My grandma has seven kids and they actually didn’t all come here together,” Blair said. “My mom was amongst the first kids to come over when she was 14. My aunt told me about how the older kids were in America for eight years before the rest (of the family) got to come over.”
Although it took eight years for the family to be reunited under one roof, it didn’t take long before the family grew and they remained close from then on. On any given night, Blair could be found around the dinner table with 15 or more relatives.
“You know how families get together for the holidays?” said Blair. “All your relatives come (over), that was an everyday thing for us. Every day felt like a big gathering. Every meal was like Thanksgiving.”
For Blair, growing up with a large family meant that three generations lived within walking distance of her home. Every meal, every event and every celebration was big, especially when members of her family that emigrated from Jamaica gained U.S. citizenship.
“We always threw a party when someone got their citizenship,” said Blair. “It’s so fun and meant a lot. My family uprooted their lives (to go to New York). They lived in the country (in Jamaica), literally on the top of a cliff, and for them to transition to New York, it couldn’t be anymore opposite.”
Although the country side of Jamaica and the busy streets of New York City don’t have anything in common, Blair’s family made NYC home and took a chance to follow their dreams.
“They were able to transition and be successful,” Blair said. “It amazes me. They were uprooted but found a way to make it work and succeed at life.”
While her family worked tirelessly to adjust to its new home, the traditions and customs from Jamaica were never far away. Blair may be amongst the first generation of her family born in the U.S., but had a unique childhood that mixed American city life together with farm life from Jamaica.
“I didn’t have the typical American upbringing, so it was interesting,” said Blair. “I was born in America, but was raised with a lot of Jamaican traditions. We grew up with the same traditions that my mom grew up with in Jamaica. You grew up learning to cook, clean and have chores at a very young age. My family kept the same traditions as far as how you raised the children. They Americanized it a little bit, like our house in Jamaica isn’t as modern as it is in New York, but we were still raised as if we are on the farm.”
Chores and helping around the house were just the beginning of the foundation that shaped her work ethic and drive. Academics were also stressed to Blair as the most important thing outside of family. Blair knew that going to college wasn’t a choice, but rather a necessity.
Little did Blair know, the game she had been around for some time would provide an opportunity to continue her education and earn not one, but two degrees.
“I would’ve never thought basketball would provide all this for me, especially since I started playing basketball in ninth grade,” Blair said. “I didn’t take basketball seriously until the end of my sophomore year. Once I started taking it seriously, I had two years to see where it could get me. I can’t believe this happened to me.”
With each offer letter that came in, Blair’s excitement about the future grew. It wasn’t long until she realized that her new found love of basketball wouldn’t just provide her the opportunity to earn a college degree, but might take her away from her large family.
“I was a little nervous to go far away, for the sake of leaving my family, but my mom was very adamant in telling me to take the opportunity and see other places,” said Blair. “She was sad to see me go, but she wanted me to venture out and be on my own. I feel like (because of) her circumstances coming here, she definitely pushed me to branch out and be on my own.”
After being named a McDonald’s All-America nominee and ranked the 38th-best center in the 2012 recruiting class, Blair committed to Ohio State. She packed her bags and headed to Ohio to begin her collegiate basketball career.
Blair moved away from home for the first time with some reservations of leaving her family behind, but knew it was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up because she was able to pay her way through school.
“My mom worked so hard to get to where she is and she doesn’t have to worry about how she’s going to put me through college or how we are going to pay for this,” Blair explained. “Now she doesn’t have to worry, she doesn’t have to pay for my education, which is expensive. She already had to pay her way through college and help put my brother through school. It makes me feel good knowing that she doesn’t have to worry about putting me through school.”
Moving away from her family became a small price to pay for Blair. It wasn’t an easy decision, but one that both Blair and her mother became more and more comfortable with.
“At first, as a parent, it’s definitely hard to see your kids move away,” said Lorraine Blair, Lisa’s mother. “She had started traveling before she went away to school, so when she went to Ohio State it wasn’t as difficult. It was also easier because I knew the other families (at Ohio State), so then it wasn’t difficult at all to see her go.”
Knowing that Blair was surrounded by other families and her basketball family made it easier for her mother to let her travel thousands of miles away from home for the first time. Growing up in a large family allowed Blair to learn early on how to blend into large groups and work together with all sorts of personalities.
“Growing up with a large family has helped me transition easier going to new places and meeting new people,” said Blair. “Being surrounded by so many people and personalities taught me how to work with all kinds of people because I have dealt my entire life with all these different personalities.”
Being able to work well with varying personalities is a trait that has allowed Blair to succeed on and off the hardwood. She is able to adapt with just about anyone, which comes in handy as a part of a team, whether on the court or not.
“She wasn’t sheltered and she wasn’t the only child,” Lorraine Blair explained. “She knows how to get along well others because she had so many (family members) here that had different personalities. That helped her more than if she was an only child.”
Although Columbus and the Buckeyes became a home and family, after Blair earned her undergraduate degree she realized she had one year of eligibility left and wanted to make the most of her education before hanging up her jersey for the last time.
Blair has always had an eye for fashion, but wanted to earn her master’s degree while competing in her fifth year of eligibility. The 6-foot-5 center reopened the recruiting process in hopes of finding a home once again.
“One of the big things that I told all coaches was that I need to be somewhere that I could be comfortable right away,” Blair said. “I’m in a time period where I need to feel that family vibe. I wanted to be somewhere that I could feel at home, easily, and that’s something that I felt when I came to Kansas.”
Finding a home in Kansas for her final year of basketball was exciting for Blair, who immediately found everything she was looking for. But, she was once again faced with moving away from her family and home in New York and this time it was even further away.
“It was definitely hard because she (my mom) did want me to move back home,” Blair said. “We were even looking at places back home, but again, she also wanted me do what felt right.”
Kansas felt right and felt like home even after only spending a few days in Lawrence. The biggest draw for Blair to come to KU to play in Allen Fieldhouse and work toward her master’s degree was the family-like atmosphere.
The Jayhawks trip to Europe in the summer of 2016 sped up the process of forming relationships with Blair’s teammates, coaches and support staff. Blair began taking classes in July like her teammates and headed abroad for a 10-day European tour through France and Switzerland.
“When I first got here, I didn’t really get a chance to spend time with everyone, but in Europe I got to spend time with everyone,” said Blair. “It honestly helped me create relationships with people that I didn’t get to spend time with (before the trip).”
It wasn’t just 10-days of bonding with her new team that made Kansas women’s basketball become her second family. Head coach Brandon Schneider has cultivated a family-first approach from the moment he stepped foot on campus in 2015.
“He’s a caring person and family comes first,” Blair said of her new head coach. “He makes sure that this is your second family, so he’s very big on us being a part of his family.”
With an adventure abroad and a coach’s philosophy that mimicked her own, Blair knew she had made the right choice in coming to Kansas to join the Jayhawk family.
She now had a two families, one in New York and one in Kansas. Over the last several months, Blair has endured the ups and downs of being a college student. Through the good times and even the moments she misses home, Blair has 14 new sisters to rely on for support.
“There are days when I may get homesick, but I don’t have to be by myself,” Blair said. “I can call anyone and they are there. Sometimes Chelsea (Lott) and I just lay around and watch television. Or I can go up to Jayde (Christopher) and Sydney’s (Benoit) room. I never have to be along, which is great. They are always there and I can always count on any of them.”
After growing up with three generations of her family around all the time, it’s taken Blair awhile to adjust to living with just her roommate, Chelsea Lott. As the oldest on the team, Blair, who celebrated her 23rd birthday earlier this month, has no problem living with the youngest – it’s a dynamic that isn’t much different than home. Lott also doesn’t let Blair forget that she is the oldest.
“We all call her ‘grandma’ because she is so much older,” Lott said. “But, in a way she does take care of me since I’m the youngest on the team by far.”
Despite the jokes, Blair has no issues being the oldest on the team. It’s a role that she embraces because of her upbringing in a large family.
While basketball has taken up a majority of her time for the last eight years, Blair hasn’t forgotten a valuable lesson from her childhood. School comes first and is just as important as basketball, which made it possible for Blair to go school.
“Academics is number one and it has always been number one to me,” said Blair. “My mom has always stressed that academics come first. That’s how I was raised, academics first and then basketball.”
She may have been told academics first and basketball second, but Blair has made both a priority for the last four years. Basketball has not only given her an opportunity to find a second home and family, but earn both her undergraduate and graduate degrees. Blair is one semester away from receiving her master’s degree in digital content strategy, something that her mom beams about with pride.
“Oh my goodness, I am so proud,” Lorraine Blair said of her daughter’s degrees. “People get so tired of me talking about her. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I am extremely proud (of her). If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t even think twice about her going away to school.”
Having her family back at home so proud of her accomplishments, Blair knows she made the right decision to follow her basketball dreams. It’s not just the pair of degrees that made the decision worthwhile, it’s her teams that became family and a campuses that became home that aided in Blair’s belief that she followed the right path.
With every step that Blair took away from her family and New York City, she found another home and second family, making her time away easier. Basketball provided Blair with not only an education, but a chance to make a home wherever her heart led her.