To avoid men's blueprint, Frese will build off title

April 06, 2006|By RICK MAESE

Boston -- The confetti was still fluttering to the arena floor when it became clear that the world of women's college basketball had just set foot into the future.

We had a slight glimpse of it last season when unheralded Baylor injected some parity into the list of women's NCAA champions. But the Bears were one and done. The Maryland Terrapins, bolstered by a young lineup, a young coach and high schoolers lining up to play in College Park are poised for a reign that has no obvious end in sight.

We don't toss around the word dynasty after a single championship, but it's safe to say the Terps will be the preseason favorite next season. They'll be expected to win the Atlantic Coast Conference and return to the Final Four. Then they'll be expected to do it again in 2008 and beyond.

FOR THE RECORD - A photo caption yesterday on the first page of the Sports section misidentified University of Maryland women's basketball player Laura Harper as Crystal Langhorne. The Sun regrets the error.

The reason is the blueprint.

It's been floating around College Park for a few years now and coach Brenda Frese and her staff are very aware. I'm not talking about the blueprint to success. It's the blueprint to failure, scripted by the school's men's program after it won the national championship in 2002. It's a virtual what-not-to-do list for any team that cuts down championship nets.

Even the casual fan can see that Frese's Terps are in position to sustain their success much better than the men did. The differences in this group and Williams' Terps are numerous, some circumstantial and others tangible.

Just scan down the roster. In Tuesday night's win over Duke, Frese started a pair of freshmen, two sophomores and a junior. Underclassmen played 222 of the team's 225 minutes.

They're fortunate enough to return top-shelf talent, a luxury Williams never had. On the men's team's 2000-01 Final Four squad, four of the five starters returned to play on the championship team the next season. But from that title team, only two starters returned.

Basketball observers have been keeping a close eye on Maryland's young players all year. Many had the Terps pegged as a Final Four team, just not this season. Watching Maryland's underclassmen perform in the second half Tuesday night, it's no wonder the TV talking heads immediately declared the Terps the team to beat next season.

But there's more to it. Despite the dominance of teams like Connecticut and Tennessee, the excitement around the women's game has been largely self-contained. That may be changing and because of the Terps' position at the top of the mountain, they could lead the charge.

We'll overlook the obvious signs that the women's game has "arrived" (allegations of cheating and supposed rioting in College Park chief among them). Just look at the numbers. The Terps' win posted a 3.1 overnight television rating, which means that more than 2.7 million Americans tuned in - a 19 percent increase over last season's title game.

The fashion in which the Terps overcame a double-digit deficit planted a seed in the minds of plenty of fans who probably couldn't name a single Maryland starter. Williams' program was never poised to attract a larger audience to the game.

To understand what will most separate Frese's post-title Terps from Williams' teams, you need look no further than the coach.

The safe guess is that Frese, a tireless recruiter already, will work only harder. It's the only way she knows. Frese was a Debbie Yow hire. The Maryland athletic director tries to hire leaders with a track record of doing a lot with a little. When they arrive in College Park and find sufficient resources, they're still expected to overachieve.

Williams didn't capitalize on two great basketball teams because of troubles recruiting, an area which happens to be Frese's forte. You can't win a title and wait by the telephone.

Last week in Boston, each of Frese's players was asked at some point the main reason she chose Maryland. None said the teammates. None mentioned Comcast Center. None pointed to the school's academics. The personal relationship established with Frese, each told reporters.

Frese signed two more super incoming freshman for next season: Demauria Liles, a 6-foot-1 forward from Laurel, and Emery Wallace, a 6-2 forward from Roanoke, Va.

Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood, a transfer from Tennessee, will also be a factor next season.

It's the kind of dilemma a coach wants to have. Too much talent - not something uttered about Williams' teams these past few years.

On the surface, Frese's success is completely independent of the struggles of the men's teams. But looking at one program helps us understand the other. In four quick years, the women's team was built up to the sky as the men's team crumbled to the ground.

There's a lesson in there somewhere, but don't expect Frese to thumb through the blueprints to find it. She doesn't have time. She's already working on making sure this week's magic was only a sneak preview of things to come.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

Read Rick Maese's blog at baltimoresun.com/maeseblog

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