Vinh Bui, an assistant girls’ basketball coach at Noble and Greenough, has been attending Boston College games more frequently this season. One reason: Bui wants to watch his Dorchester neighbor, starting point guard Taina Mair, dazzle the crowd with her passing and tempo.
“It’s awesome,” Bui said. “You can’t put a price on stuff that great, as far as getting people to come out to see you because you’re the hometown hero.”
Mair, nicknamed “T-Mair,” “T-Money,” or just “T,” has been thrown into the deep end on a young Eagles team. She has started all eight contests this season and played 298 of 320 total minutes, including six games with at least 38 minutes of action.
Though Mair is only a freshman — she still sometimes forgets to huddle her team during a free throw — she is doing more than treading water. She is tied for third in the country with 53 total assists. The 5-foot-9-inch guard matched BC’s freshman single-game assist record in her debut with 13 dimes against UMass Lowell.
Despite a massive learning curve, Mair is tapping into her potential in front of her home crowd.
“I’m always up for the challenge, and I think I’ve been facing the challenge pretty good,” she said. “It’s just something I’m going to continue to get better with — just keep learning and keeping open ears.”
Mair grew up in Fields Corner with her two siblings, Trayana and Talik, and her single mother, Mercy Pineda. She fell in love with basketball through the city’s popular “No Books No Ball” program, which sparked her ascent to high school stardom.
Mair played on three NEPSAC champions in three seasons (one with Holderness, N.H., and two with Brooks). She averaged a triple-double as a senior and earned Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year honors, exuding a flash and energy that outshone her quieter voice.
But major college basketball isn’t so easy. The Eagles (5-3) have no seniors or graduate students after transfer portal upheaval, and Mair immediately became the floor general. She thrives pushing the pace in transition, but dissecting new defenses in the halfcourt takes time.
“Definitely the height and definitely the speed of the game [are challenging],” Mair said. “Everything goes by quick.”
Coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee knows Mair has to change her process from high school. The point guard typically dished to cutting bigs at Brooks; now she’s sending post entry passes to sophomore center Maria Gakdeng. Mair is also learning to amplify her voice, because as the point guard, she sets the tone.
“She’s the first person that leads the offensive charge, and then she’s also in front of the defensive charge,” Bernabei-McNamee said. “She’s the person that the players see. Energy is contagious, and when she brings it, hers is contagious because she’s so easy to follow.”
Bernabei-McNamee believes Mair can eventually average double-digit points and assists. Even as the young guard battles cold shooting streaks and turnovers, her ambition remains steady.
“She takes that one step further and loves that pressure, and wants the lights,” Bernabei-McNamee said. “I think that she does that better than anyone on our team, and I think it shows in her minutes.”
Mair’s energy comes backed by a loud cast of supporters, including her family, Bui, and other local fans. Bui looks out for a rising talent of his own in high school sophomore Christina Pham, his niece. He says that Pham and the Dorchester community see Mair as a beacon.
“It means a lot to Christina,” said Bui. “It means a lot to other girls that have these aspirations and never see anyone like themselves, or from where they’re from, make it the way that she’s made it.”
When Mair grabs a slice of pizza in Dorchester, locals often say hello, even if they don’t know her personally. A busload of kids from Lawrence will travel to BC’s game against Rutgers Wednesday to watch Mair, Kayla Lezama of Hyde Park, and the rest of the Eagles.
Mair’s budding status as a figurehead for BC, Dorchester, and Massachusetts continues to motivate her.
“I think it’s really inspiring because it’s not just Dorchester, but also kids outside of the city who see what I’m doing and want to come and support,” she said. “So I think it’s pretty dope.”
The honor is hers
UMass senior guard Sydney Taylor earned Atlantic 10 Player of the Week honors after averaging 26.3 points and 6.7 assists in three games. One of those contests was a 100-83 overtime win against Drake, the first 100-point performance by the Minutewomen since 2017 ... Boston University is riding a four-game winning streak, the longest of coach Melissa Graves’s two-year tenure to date ... Milton native Caroline Ducharme scored 15 points off the bench to help power No. 3 UConn to victory against No. 9 Iowa in the Phil Knight Legacy tournament championship game Sunday.
Ethan Fuller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.