Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Beware of the Turtle -- Getting it Done With Coach B

By Mel Greenberg

COLLEGE PARK, Md. _ It was the night before the championship game between Connecticut and Oklahoma four years ago in San Antonio.

Of the two coaches who were going to go against each other hours later, one of those individuals was among the zillion of personal friends to attend what used to be an annual party thrown by the other coach.

We won't name who was who except to say the host was feeling quite confident that night with good reason that was proven out the following night.

We mention this because during the festivities in the local establishment, there were two circles of people engaged in conversation.

In one area, many of the so-called Connecticut horde media contingent was being entertained by one Jennifer Rizzotti, whose Hartford team had won its first America East title. Oh how the years fly by as the song goes.

In the other, Brenda Frese was seeking advice from a larger group of colleagues in the profession.

Having successfully turned around the Ball State program, Frese was at the end of the first year of the new Minnesota era, where she introduced the Gophers to a long-forgotten art: winning.

Frese was holding an offer from Maryland, whose longtime coach Chris Weller had just retired.

What to do?

Some in the crowd suggested staying put. Others said to make the move, implying she might win at Minnesota but never have the resources to get to a Final Four.

Ironically, that's what Minnesota did two seasons later without her, and she was thrilled for her former squad to achieve that success.

"San Antonio, I didn't enjoy that Final Four," Frese said Wednesday as the Terrapins began preparing for the program's first trip to the big stage since 1989. "The fact that Maryland had made an offer. Minnesota was trying to renegotiate. Ohio State came to the mix.
"Yeah, that was a very stressful time in my life."

Frese said her first contact came from a head hunter just before Minnesota went to play North Carolina in the NCAA tournament. "Just to find out if there was an interest (in Maryland).
"They called the next day after we lost to North Carolina just to try to fly me in and do an interview."

Ironically, Frese's squad will meet Atlantic Coast Conference rival North Carolina, Sunday, in one of the national semifinals in Boston at the TBD Banknorth Arena.

LSU will meet Duke in the other game.

Once looking at the resources -- the new Comcast Center was about to open -- Frese decided to make the move.

Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow, a former women's coach from a pedigree family of basketball that includes sister Kay Yow at North Carolina State and sister Susan Yow, a former all-American and coach, had already seen one NCAA title in recent seasons in College Park when the men's team won. The women's field hockey team added another NCAA crown in the fall.

Yow talked Wednesday about her search for Weller's successor.

"I knew about Brenda before Chris decided to retire because of her reputation at Ball State and Minnesota," Yow said. "But in addition to that, my sister-in-law and her husband are members of a support group for women's basketball at Minnesota. So I knew a lot more about her, which was to reinforce my original opinions that she was a winner and a worker.

"We live in a rich area that has a lot of talent, which was one of the reasons I think she took the job," Yow said. "Then there's the ACC, a great conference in which to play. Also, financially the ability to hire assistants to make this work before we can afford to. We made that commitment up front. Plus a lot of administrative support."

Once Frese was in place, it was time to build again.

"I never had a specific time table in my head," Frese spoke of the long-range game plan. "Obviously seeing the success Kim Mulkey-Robertson had at Baylor and Joanne Palombo McCallie had at Michigan State, to see their timetable was remarkable, to see that quick turnaround was really something.

"Obviously, what happened to us at Minnesota in one year was really special," Frese said.

The first component was to get some quality guards and Frese's first class included Shay Doron and Kalika France. Then came the addition of Laura Harper and Crystal Langhorne.

The harvest of all-America high school talent continued and in year four, Maryland is back to prominence.

The Terrapins' appearance in Boston is extra special this weekend as the NCAA celebrates its 25th anniversary because Maryland played in the first Women's Final Four in the organization.

"It just shows the tradition Maryland has had and continues to have," Frese said. "We're able to do it with the support we have all the way to the athletic director's office."

Purdue search

With Kristy Curry set to be introduced at Texas Tech on Thursday, the question quickly becomes along the trail of dominoes, who will succeed her at Purdue.

Given the Boilermakers' past practice of hiring hot assistant coaches for the top job, Purdue might be able to go one better with one of its own.

Evansville coach Tricia Cullop, who has had success with limited resources compared to the big guns, might be someone for Boilermaker officials to consider.

Cullop also was an assistant to Melanie Balcomb at Xavier when the Musketeers first came to prominence.

Our Final Four Team

On Selection Monday, we had some contributions from our Rutgers Daily Targum colleague Kate Burkholder, the associate sports editor.

I mentioned that she would join us down the road, primarily in this space, from the Final Four in Boston in several roles. One will be to act as extended eyes and ears and other body appendages necessary for my print coverage on crazed deadlines for the Inquirer and, hence, Philly.Com.

But, aside from sending reports back to Piscataway, N.J., on Cappie Pondexter's exploits and her Final Four impressions, Kate will be blogging with us in this space, taking you behind the scenes at the parties, etc., and external events, as will as the WNBA draft.

It's the same role Penn's Jonathan Tannenwald so capably helped us with last summer with reports from Washington on Mystics games in the WNBA when I was elsewhere.

Kate is another blue chip talent out of the Rutgers journalism dept. that has produced Kelly Whiteside, now at USA Today, Sports Illustrated's Kelli Anderson, and the Hartford Courant's Lori Riley.

We'll be back in print on Friday with more notes, and later this weekend with our own look back at 25 years of NCAA Final Fours as well as coverage from next week's draft.

And so as the sun comes up through the office windows :) Good morning and good night.

-- Mel

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