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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Jimmy V Classic has special meaning for Maryland coach

The fact that the Jimmy V Classic is foremost a vehicle to raise awareness and money for cancer research warms the heart of every coach that has been invited to play in the showcase college basketball event every year since 2002. But the opportunity to play UConn in the lone women's game in the 2012 Jimmy V Classic hits close to home for Maryland coach Brenda Frese.

Frese's son Tyler was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia back in 2010 and although Tyler is currently cancer free, his energy-sapping treatments are still ongoing. Frese provided an update on Tyler's ongoing fight as well as the importance of playing in the event at the Jimmy V Classic dinner at Pier 60 at the historic Chelsea Piers last night.

"It is personal for us and our family, everything that Tyler is going through and continuing to go through," Frese said. "Anything we can do to bring awareness and help in this fight against cancer any way we can."

Frese has been blown away by the response of the University of Maryland community since it was announced that the Terrapins women's team would be playing in the Jimmy V Classic for the second time.

"It's been overwhelming," Frese said. "Obviously everybody knows the story and know how personal it is. Obviously the matchup adds to it being able to play Connecticut and be able to bring them back to College Park for our fans (during the 2013-14 season) but the No. 1 reason we wanted to be able to play in it was to help bring awareness and find any way we can to be able to help with cancer research and be able help find a cure."

The good news is that the treatments Tyler is going through seem to be working.

"He is doing really well," Frese said. "He is cancer free right now but still has a year and a half left of treatment and then it is a waiting game to see how he reacts to everything. He is in preschool, on the outside a normal boy in terms of his activity level and how he plays. He is a fighter and we feel pretty fortunate that so far he is on a really good path." 

When UConn and Maryland, who both figure to be ranked in the top five heading into the season, meet on Dec. 3 at the XL Center it will be the first time the teams will play.

"We are excited to see where we measure up," Frese said. "UConn has set the highest bar in women's basketball. What Geno has done is nothing short of amazing. For our team and our program to have this experience and then to have a home and home for our fans back at Maryland and the way we draw, you couldn't ask for a better situation."

So what impresses Frese the most about the way UConn coach Geno Auriemma's teams play?

"Are you ready for the list?" Frese asked. "Just how hard they play on both ends of the floor. They get their players to buy in and thee is no stone left unturned. Defensively, the level that they play at and how they are able to shut teams down and obviously offensively they are very unselfish with the way they move the ball. They always have phenomenal players who can flat out put the ball in the basket. They can score and are an extremely unselfish team year in and year out. Everybody knows the consistency factor but to stay on top and do what Geno has done it truly remarkable."

Dating back to when Maryland successful recruited Crystal Langhorne and Laura Harper, stars on the Terrapins'  2006 national championship squad, so many recruiting battles seem to involve Maryland and UConn. On the current UConn squad Stefanie Dolson and Kiah Stokes were among the players heavily recruited by Maryland and if my memory serves me correctly, when I made the trip to North Babylon High School to see Bria Hartley play for the first time during her high school days, Maryland recruiters were in the building. Maryland was also on current UConn recruiting target Saniya Chong's short list. So I asked Frese whether it is a similar recruiting philosophy or a simple case of geography which results in Maryland and Connecticut locking horns on so many top prospects.

"I think geographically it makes sense when young women want to stay home, we probably have some similar philosophies as well as far as the type of player that we want," Frese said. "Our paths have crossed numerous times on the recruiting trail."

A couple of additional tidbits from Frese that I think people might be interested.

First, she said that current Maryland star Alyssa Thomas has as much competitive fire in her belly as any player she'd had to Maryland including a couple of current WNBA stars.

"I've been fortunate enough to coach some really good players, Crystal Langhorne, Kristi Toliver and Laura Harper and she is by far the most competitive player I have ever coached," Frese said of Thomas. "Her will to win, her will to compete and that transfers over to the court. She is just never satisfied with her game. She competes every day in practice like she is the worst player out there. She will do whatever it takes to put this team on her back."

Finally, I asked for her reaction on Notre Dame's decision to leave the Big East for the ACC and what Notre Dame will add to ACC women's basketball.

"Obviously instant credibility with what they have been able to do on the national scene. I feel like our conference will be one of the premier conferences in the country with the addition of Notre Dame. Obviously with what Muffet (McGraw) has been able to do and the success she has been able to have in the runs to the Final Four, I think it instantly they are going to make our conference even that much more competitive."


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