The phone call came from 1,200 miles away.
On a September 2011 morning after a workout, Bryeasha Blair, then a freshman on the UCF women’s basketball team, picked up the phone. At the other end of the connection was the hysterical voice of her mother.
The home she grew up in had gone up in flames. A space heater had ignited a blaze. Thankfully, everyone was okay.
But at head coach Joi Williams’ urging, Blair hopped on a plane and flew home to Chicago so she could be with her family through the devastating time. As they sat in a hotel room that night, Blair and her family didn’t dwell on the priceless memories now incinerated.
Instead, the family made a pact. That night, they began to brand themselves as the “Blair Six” with an understanding that encompassed the whole idea of the Blair family: togetherness.
“We all knew that we should have been down because everything was pretty much ruined,” Blair’s father, Eric, said. “We were smiling and joking and our spirits were high. We knew that night that we had everything that we needed.”
According to Blair’s father, the “Blair Six” pact was more like a creed, a creed that showed great character. It’s the very character Blair has displayed while overcoming two season-ending ACL tears in order to return to the court next month in the 2014-15 UCF season opener.
Blair’s love of and history with basketball started at the age of 10, when her uncle encouraged her to join a league after he watched her shoot during a family barbecue.
“I was the only girl in the whole entire league,” Blair said. “I kind of grew up playing with guys and then it kind of carried on into middle school, where I played on an all-boys team again and being the only girl in the league.”
It wasn’t until high school that Blair finally played with an all-girls team after moving in with her aunt in order to attend elite basketball school, Whitney Young. During her time at Whitney Young, the four-year varsity player helped lead her team to the 2008 Illinois State Championship and the 2009 and 2010 Chicago City Championships.
When the time came for college, the move to UCF was an easy decision for Blair. She wanted a change and thought UCF felt like home.
“It’s like a family atmosphere,” Blair said. “I had that family atmosphere with the girls I played with in high school, so it was like a perfect fit.”
Her sophomore year with the Knights proved to have a new set of challenges when she tore her ACL during a preseason practice, landing wrong after a layup.
While disappointed that she could not play the game she loved, knowing that her family was behind her was all the motivation that she needed stay positive and to fight her way back to recovery.
“We kind of brand ourselves as the `Blair Six,'” Blair said. “It’s just a reminder to know that if you are going through something, these five other people are going through it with you.”
She worked hard in therapy and the weight room to come back for the 2013-14 season, but once again, an awkward landing benched her with an ACL tear in the other knee. “I just couldn’t believe it,” Blair said. “I thought `not again.’ I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do.”
The first tear, according to Blair, was more frustrating. The second, she said, was more disheartening as she battled through questions of self-doubt and self-pity.
“I had a talk with my Dad,” Blair said. “That kind of just helped me to know that all of this stuff is just going to prepare me for something greater and there was no need for me to put my head down. So I might as well go into this with a positive attitude and do what I have to do to get back on the court.”
Even though her injuries have kept her off the court on game day since March 7, 2012, she has found other ways to contribute. As the oldest of four Blair children, she was a leader at home. She has also become a natural leader for the Knights.
“As far as being a leader, I kind of thank them for my success now,” Blair said. “I have to set good examples for them and make sure that they know what’s expected from a family standpoint, from a team standpoint, a program standpoint.”
Blair’s father refers to her as the cornerstone of their family.
“It is unbelievable,” Blair’s father said. “Just the strength that she had, to go through that a second time, was a sign of what my wife and I have instilled in her. She definitely has shown her strength and earned that respect from her teammates. Everybody looks up to her.”
Blair sees both injuries now as blessings in disguise. She feels she has learned more about the game, what it takes to be more of a leader for her team, for her family, and to be grateful for the things she has.
“I have learned to cherish everything you have in the moment,” Blair said. “Because it can be gone in the blink of an eye.”