- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2006

In the crucible of another basketball season, Maryland women’s coach Brenda Frese doesn’t have much spare time.

Sure, the Terrapins will take a day off each week, but Frese won’t. She’s living out her self-described “Every day, 24-7, 365 days in a year” recruiting philosophy, one that will take her into high school gyms near and far in search of more blue-chippers to continue fueling Maryland’s phoenix-like rise into the sport’s elite.

“I’ve been telling my husband I wanted to see ‘Glory Road’ for the last month, and I still can’t get to a theater to see it,” Frese said last week.

Call it the price of success, one Frese and the Terrapins (21-2, 8-1 ACC) gladly will pay. Frese’s tireless recruiting efforts since her arrival four years ago have transformed a stagnant program into one capable of contending for a Final Four berth (or more) entering tonight’s visit to No. 1 North Carolina.

Maryland’s roster is littered with high school All-Americans, an almost unthinkable prospect for a team without an NCAA tournament victory in the 10 years before Frese’s hire. The Terps play an appealing, up-tempo style and have lost only to powerhouses Duke and Tennessee this season.

And the sixth-ranked Terps only should get better next year. None of Maryland’s top eight scorers is a senior, injured junior Kalika France (knee) should be healthy and the Terps add two more freshmen, as well as Tennessee transfer Sa’de Wiley-Gatewood.

It will be a full roster of players brought in by the 35-year-old Frese.

“Brenda is a tireless recruiter,” said Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly, who employed Frese as his recruiting coordinator from 1995 to 1999 as the Cyclones emerged as a national power. “She knows how important it is. She’s great with relationships. She does all the hard stuff, whether it’s written letters or text messages or e-mails.”

On the road

Fennelly recalled how Frese traveled to tiny Roseau, Minn., to scout a high school player near the Canadian border.

That player was Megan Taylor, who went on to become Iowa State’s all-time leading scorer.

“Brenda drove through a snowstorm when no one else could get there,” Fennelly said.

Frese earned her first head coaching gig at Ball State, revitalizing the Cardinals in two seasons before moving to Minnesota for one season. Frese led the Golden Gophers to their first NCAA tournament in eight years, won the Associated Press coach of the year award and then jumped to Maryland when Chris Weller retired.

Maryland’s three Final Four berths and eight ACC tournament titles all came before the end of the 1980s, but Frese tried to piggyback on the success of the men’s basketball team’s national title and the football team’s Orange Bowl trip in her initial forays, as well as tout the new Comcast Center.

She found a receptive audience in France, a local product out of Bishop McNamara, and Shay Doron, a star at Christ the King in New York.

“People thought I was the University of Maryland just getting their mail all the time. The mailman kept coming in and asking, ‘Are you going to Maryland?’ ” Doron said. “You want coaches you can interact with and be comfortable with, and she does that really well. It really helps that she’s really young and that we can relate more.

“She’ll say ‘I go to sleep at 1. I don’t want to wake up at 6 for practice.’ That’s something you want to hear when you’re a 16-, 17-year-old kid when you’re getting recruited.”

‘Coach B was everywhere’

Frese decided during her first season at Maryland that, at least for that year, recruiting was worth emphasizing more than practice. She would travel to watch high school games a couple times a week, leaving assistant Jeff Walz to run practices during her absence.

It didn’t take long for Frese to discover she was not only battling Connecticut and Tennessee for players but also the general perceptions of those powerhouses. However, she still hauled in the year’s No. 2 recruiting class, including center Crystal Langhorne, forwards Laura Harper and Jade Perry and guard Ashleigh Newman.

Freshman Marissa Coleman never thought about going to Maryland even though she played in high school at St. John’s in the District (“They weren’t that good, and I never wanted to stay that close to home,” she said), instead dreaming of Connecticut, Duke and Tennessee.

That was before she learned of Frese’s interest, which came as early as her sophomore year. Persistent as ever, Frese added Coleman and guard Kristi Toliver this season, a class ranked No. 4 nationally.

“Coach B was everywhere,” Coleman said. “She made it known she wanted me here. All the coaches did. That’s a good thing because you know where you’re really wanted. Every tournament, every game I played in and they were allowed to go to, they were there.”

In search of a title

Recruiting continues at a frenetic pace even now for Frese, who has a far different sell than when she arrived. The Terps are on the precipice of greatness after consecutive trips to the second round of the NCAA tournament, and Frese isn’t about to relax.

Her charisma helped land Wiley-Gatewood, a former national high school player of the year who started at point guard for Tennessee earlier this season. Wiley-Gatewood was ready to transfer to Oklahoma, but a call from Maryland piqued her curiosity.

“That’s what I want, to be able to go talk to my coach because that’s going to be my mother here, she’s going to take care of me,” Wiley-Gatewood said. “Once I had that vibe with her, she had me. … All coaches should have that connection with their players.”

With the prospect of fielding one of the nation’s deepest teams next year, it would be understandable if the Terps were drooling at the possibility of a title in 2007. However, Maryland is content to enjoy this season rather than look ahead.

None of it comes as a surprise to Fennelly, Frese’s mentor at Iowa State.

“She was going to make it happen,” he said. “She’s not going to take her time. It’s a phenomenal university with a basketball tradition that’s had some success. I think she saw that and got some kids in there and said, ‘We’re not going to sit and take our turn for the Dukes and the North Carolinas. We want to be in that mix.’ And that’s what happened.”

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