National champion Aggies welcomed home

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COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS (AP) - Thousands of fans packed Reed Arena on Wednesday afternoon to welcome the Texas A&M women’s basketball team home with its first national championship.

The band played, and a huge banner and four smaller ones declaring the winners surrounded a stage on the court. The team and coaches gathered to address the crowd a day after the 76-70 win over Notre Dame.

University president R. Bowen Loftin called it a “great day in Aggieland.”

“This belongs to the team, but it also belongs to all Aggies,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Texas A&M’s first All-American Danielle Adams, who scored 30 points, received a standing ovation. She thanked Texas A&M for recruiting her out of junior college when many schools shied away because they were worried about her weight and conditioning.

“They gave me a chance and I’ve worked hard at it since Day 1 and it all paid off in the end,” she said. “Now we’re national champions. It’s great that they gave me the chance that I had.”

Coach Gary Blair, who won the title in his second trip to the Final Four after leading Arkansas there in 1998, didn’t stop smiling during the almost hour-long party. He recalled a conversation he had with a fan about a week after he was hired in 2003.

“He said, ‘Everyone loves us; we’re lovable losers,’” Blair said. “I told him: ‘That’s not what I want to be a part of. I’m here to build champions.’”

And on Tuesday night he did, completing a major turnaround for a team that once played in front of only close friends and family.

Athletic director Bill Byrne, who hired Blair soon after he signed on at Texas A&M, called Blair’s work remarkable.

“Last night is a precursor to more championships,” he said. “This is not a one trick pony.”

The Texas A&M football team has long drawn huge crowds to Kyle Field, but the more than 6,000 fans the women’s team averaged this season is a number that was unheard of just a few short years ago.

“You see that women’s basketball isn’t all that bad,” a beaming Sydney Colson told the crowd. “It can be pretty good.”

A four-legged fan joined in the celebration as Texas A&M’s collie mascot Reveille strolled around the arena. She wasn’t the only famous Aggie there to support the women, as football coach Mike Sherman and several members of the Texas A&M men’s basketball team also came out.

“I’m probably more excited than the girls right now,” said B.J. Holmes, a senior on the men’s team. “I don’t think it’s hit them yet. It’s just a tremendous thing they did for the school and for themselves. Not a lot of people give us credit out here at Texas A&M … but we’ve been on the rise for the past few years and we’re trying to stay there.”

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