COLLEGE PARK - It's the good and the bad of it. The bigger women's college basketball gets, the more cutthroat the enterprise becomes, which is why it might be fair to ask how long first-year Maryland coach Brenda Frese will stick around.
She is 32. She is an Iowa native (Cedar Rapids) with deep Midwest roots (assistant coach at Kent State and Iowa State and head coach at Ball State and Minnesota). Also worth mentioning, Frese, unlike her counterpart, Gary Williams, is not a Maryland alum. Williams' newly minted contract extension seems to guarantee the championship coach's retirement - like his pot of gold - will come in College Park.
Frese might even expect a little suspicion. After all, she's well aware of the criticism hurled at her after she left Minnesota in April after a stellar one-year stint with the Gophers.
"I know they took it really hard, that people were saying, `She was here one year and she leaves.' I could sit here and dwell on it, but I moved on. I said: `Hey, these people felt passionate about women's basketball. We turned it around so that people wanted to get involved,' " Frese said.
She wants to do that here, with the bonus of a deep recruiting base (Baltimore and Washington alone are rich fodder) and thicker resources, courtesy, in part, of the increased revenues to be generated by the new, luxury suite-ringed Comcast Center. Just to give you an idea, it cost as much as $30,000 for Frese and her staff to bang on recruits' doors this past August. She got good results from the cash flow.
But now that women's roundball has turned hardball in Division I circles, Maryland has protected itself against losing what it considers it newest, best athletic department asset. Athletic director Debbie Yow may have attracted Frese with a lucrative, six-year deal, but she also attached a hefty buyout clause that should force any potential raiders to think twice about luring Frese.
Here's why, courtesy of an astounding stat: Fifty-seven Division I schools across America hired new women's basketball coaches before the start of this season. Only one of them got the reigning Associated Press Coach of the Year. That would be Maryland. She would be Frese.
Everyone should feel very happy ... except maybe Minnesota, where, last season, Frese conducted a Big Ten-record one-year turnaround.
Minnesota went from 8-20 to 22-8, pumping Frese's young but impressive career record to 57-30. She took the perennially downtrodden Gophers to the NCAA tournament and, better yet, delivered star status to the women's game in the Twin Cities.
Eyes weren't just opened to Frese. They were bugging out. Frese became the prize coach every athletic director wanted. But only Maryland seemed to have all the right stuff - not to mention a recruiting tactic that turned Frese's head.
So what if the Maryland men were in the middle of a gargantuan national championship run? So what if the Terrapins were knee-deep in March Madness? With Ohio State and Florida in hot pursuit, leaving Frese interesting voice mails in March, Maryland did the right things.
"To have all that going on and still, behind the scenes, be working on hiring a new coach for the women, that was tough. But Debbie Yow and Maryland knew they wanted me to come. They said they knew if they wait until after the men win to deal with this, then we're behind," Frese said.
"That was when I realized this was a place and a staff that gets it done."
Frese was the No. 1 target for an Atlantic Coast Conference basketball hotbed that wants its women's program to kick it, stride for stride, with the men. We all know what that means.
"They brought me in here expecting to win, expecting us to be successful, expecting to win a national championship. That's exciting. The potential is here to be a Top 10 team, to be ranked nationally year in and year out," Frese said.
The Brenda Frese era at Maryland officially starts tonight when the Terrapins take on Loyola in the season opener at the spanking new Comcast Center.
Or maybe not.
Maybe the Frese era started earlier this week. Maybe it started with a phone call, a fax and a recruiting coup that should open a lot of eyes. The Terrapins' turnaround from stagnant to relevant is already in motion.
One day soon, these names should mean something important: Shay Doron and Kalika France. The pair of guards (Doron out of Christ the King in New York City; France, Maryland's top player out of Bishop McNamara) ranked in the top 15 of Street & Smith's All-America list. With them, the Terrapins' future already begins to beat with richer blood, a stronger pulse.
"Early on, we got in the door with a couple of players. We didn't have a past to sell, so as a head coach, it was about developing relationships quickly," Frese said.
"Both of these players are listed by USA Today in the Top 25. We came in late on the recruiting cycle, but I think it shows the things we're going to be able to do over time when we get in the door. In women's basketball, it's more about relationships. Where you're ranked ... yeah, it matters, but deep down, players want to know they'll be taken care of. I think players can feel that from the staff. We're close-knit. That comes across in the 48 hours they have on campus."
It's already a given that Frese's programs win. With Maryland's commitment to her and all the resources a coach could dream of, Frese might make this new job one she wouldn't want to give up. That's the idea, anyway. The Maryland women are out to do like the men. Big-time stuff, with all the requisite pitfalls and trappings and a coveted coach.