Q&A with Maryland women's basketball coach Brenda Frese

Q: I followed some of the tweets. Things are going well. Is he in remission?

A: He's 30 days into it, and the chemotherapy is working. After the first month, has shown no leukemia cells. They know from doing this long enough that it's still three years of treatments that day by day he has to continue through, so watching that when your son is taking chemo and is on steroids and the hair loss and the weight gain and those kinds of things, but all signs early are that he's really responding well with everything.

Q: And obviously, it's heart-rending because there is discomfort in all that for him. It's got to tear you up every time he has to go in for treatments. I'm not familiar with the treatment regimen, but they had to put in a port, so it's not an easy thing. Have you reached a point where you steel yourself to that, or is it that every time he cries, you cry?

A: I think silently, inside, you always want to take away any pain you can from any one of your children when they are going through tough times. I think also that you gain a new perspective. Every time I'm at Johns Hopkins, I see cases that are far worse than our own, and I think within that you see what great suffering is going on out there in the real world. Sometimes you lose that perspective when you're coaching … when you're out on the court. Sometimes it's a blessing that I can go out there and escape and not have to feel that pain or sorrow that you see so much of out there. I think it also gives you a true sense of perspective of what struggles everybody has out there in life at different moments and in different times.

Q: I recall, at the time, when you found out you were going to have the twins, you told your team, and the emotional reaction to that. What was the emotional reaction when you told the team about this?

A: I told the team as soon as after that week that we were in the hospital with Tyler and when I came back to practice. I wanted our players to know first. I didn't want them to hear it from some other outlet and not hear it from myself. It was actually after practice that I informed them. Like you would expect. Young people are resilient. They were tremendous. Each and every one of them, I guess when you share with them, they get a truer understanding of different things that are taking place, but they were amazing.

Q: We do throw the word "perspective" around a lot in my business. Sometimes it doesn't mean anything, and sometimes it does. Obviously, it does here. Is there an aspect of this challenge in your life and your family's life that has made you look at your job differently? Is basketball now "just basketball" as opposed to being something you focused on for your whole young-adult life moving forward and the ambition that goes with trying to become a top-level national championship basketball coach?

A: Absolutely. I mean, it has changed me, because I want to make sure that every single day that I'm in their lives as much as I can, given everything I'm balancing and juggling. Also, when you talk about perspective, it makes me want to continue to keep educating and teaching our players on our team. It's a big reason why this year we scheduled Gallaudet — the school where the players are all deaf — to play in that game [a Nov. 2 exhibition], and we hosted a reception after the game for our players. Two of our players take a signing class and were able to communicate. I think [it's important] for our players to understand that, hey, when we have a tough day and it's just because we had a tough day on an exam or a bad practice, it's nowhere near compared to some of the life struggles that other people have out there, and people that are just like them playing college basketball and juggling their academics but can't hear a thing when they go through their 24-hour day. I think, absolutely, I've been changed in a lot of different ways and want to continue to help our players to understand the bigger picture out there.

Q: Why did you feel it was important on media day to go public?

A: For a couple of reasons. Obviously, being a visible coach, you knew the information was going to be out there. The nights that I was in the hospital with my son, you know, I felt like when you're trying to kind of answer those questions, "Why me?" "Why our family?" "Why him?" I have an opportunity to be a voice for leukemia and, again, there are so many children out there who are in such tougher situations, and even adults, than my son Tyler, that we need to bring awareness and focus to all the struggles that are out there.

Q: Are you affiliating with any specific charities or research organizations?

A: I do a lot of work with cystic fibrosis. My cousin died from that. SIDS [Sudden Infant Death Syndrome], I've done an active partnership with them. Shady Grove Fertility, I've done an active partnership with them and the YMCA. Just as many different areas where I can help shed some light on or be an advocate for.

Q: The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society has a big presence in Maryland. The progress in leukemia research since I was a kid — of course, I'm a lot older than you — has been astounding.

A: I was surprised when the doctor told us on the second night that leukemia isn't what it was 30 years ago with the amount of research and what they've learned through education. What a wonderful thing to think about, in 30 years how much we've advanced in that area.

Q: Let's move over to college athletics in general. You're the highest-profile women's coach in Maryland. You're part of a very well-regarded coaching triumvirate here with a couple of fairly dynamic other characters, to put it mildly, interesting other characters. From the outside, I think people view this, especially about the time that Debbie Yow was leaving, that there is some kind of soap opera going on here. Is that a misconception?

A: Absolutely. I think you have a lot of coaches and administrators that are driven and we're all extremely competitive, and I think everyone has their own reasons for being who they are. I don't think anybody can fault Debbie Yow for wanting to move back after the death of her sister and probably that experience for her — losing her older sister and wanting to move closer to home — I think we all completely understand it.

Q: Debbie brought you here and she put a big emphasis on women's athletics, and I assume that won't change, but on a personal level, do you miss her?

A: Yeah, absolutely. When your athletic director who hired you and was a women's coach herself and wanted to be at every game as much as she could be, to have that kind of mentorship. She was a mentor for me, but I do feel like she's prepared me for anything. I'm going into my ninth year here now, but I do miss those opportunities to go step up in her office and just [be] a sounding board, so to speak. But having said that, Kevin Anderson has done a tremendous job. Since hearing the news about Tyler and everything that he has been carrying on his plate, his presence has been huge. I welcome having a new relationship with Kevin.

Q: There have actually been two major changes in the administration — Kevin and a new university president. Does that affect your program? Does that affect anything you do?

A: No, you know the president and the athletic director here at Maryland, they've always been supportive. The goals haven't changed, to be a top-10 program and be as successful as you can be. I think we all say that in the interim, when no one was hired yet, every coach continued to stay the course, and you're as driven as you possibly can be. I think, if anything, they just enhance the experience. They make it more pleasant, and they can add to what already is a pretty special environment.

Q: I've read a few interviews with you, and you've said a few times that you want Maryland to be the last stop on your coaching tour. You're a fairly young woman. Is that realistic?

A: I hope this is where I get to retire. You look at the success that a lot of Division I coaches have had, when you finally get to retire where you want it to be your last stop. Maryland is a dream come true for me. I love everything about coaching here. This area. Living here. Raising my children here. My husband went to school here. His family is all from the area. There is no other place that I would rather be.

Q: Women's basketball has come a long way over the past 30 years. Now, you have a sustainable professional league and you have a level of play that has advanced to the point where I often hear my crusty old male sports fan friends say that the women are the only ones who play real basketball anymore. They play the game right. Have we finally gotten to a comfort zone in the game? Is this where it is? Is this the equilibrium now — the college game is healthy, and there is a sustainable professional league — or is there more to accomplish from the standpoint of recognition of the game, popularity of the professional game and the evolution of talent?

A: I think our sport is not that old. I think when you look at the speed and the athleticism and the strength, the game has gone full-circle seeing the versatility of players now, playing multiple positions, the size, getting personal trainers at an earlier age, I mean the game has just taken off in that area. The recognition, when you talk about the visibility and the exposure of the media, all our games being on television for the NCAA tournament — the national recognition, all of that, has just taken off. I still think there is room to grow. Attendance, overall, throughout the universities, can absolutely improve, and I think there's going to be even more parity as the game continues to unfold.

Q: Last question: When you were a banged-up senior basketball player at Arizona, could you have envisioned any of this?

A: (Laughing) No, not at all. When I was at Arizona, I was just hoping that I could coach high school and kind of follow a mentor of mine. Coach Paul James was my high school coach, and I was hoping to be able to go in that direction. But I always remember my dad telling us growing up that you can do even more than [you] even realize, and he was absolutely right.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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