Despite losing three-time All-American Alyssa Thomas, the Terps are still favored to win the Big Ten. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
COLLEGE PARK — Only a minute into her opening remarks at the Maryland women's basketball team's media day Tuesday, coach Brenda Frese was talking about the team she has returning, about last season's Final Four run and how excited she is to try to do better this season.
She talked about how each member of the Terps, all 12 players on the roster, has improved this offseason. Then, almost casually, she explained why that is especially important this year.
"With the challenge of losing a three-time All-American, the all-time-leading record holder here in women's basketball," Frese said, "they were going to have to improve."
Then it was back to talking about this season, as swift as a passing storm. No one within earshot at Xfinity Center needed a media guide to know of whom she was talking. There is life with Alyssa Thomas, and then there is life after Alyssa Thomas.
It is not a bleak existence. To the contrary: In a vote of Big Ten Conference coaches, Maryland was selected to win the league in its first year out of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Sophomore guard Lexie Brown was named preseason All-Big Ten. Expectations are high, as they have been since the Terps won the national championship in 2006.
But what do you do when the face of your program is gone, off to the WNBA after setting Maryland basketball records in career points (2,356), rebounds (1,235) and double doubles (66)? You get a face-lift and hope it turns out OK.
"I was telling a few people that early on, I think our players have adjusted really well," Frese said. "But they haven't been in a game setting yet to be under the stress and to be able to see what it's like with the shot clock winding down, to be able to have to produce. I think where our team has really probably molded the most is it's more by committee."
Brown, in that case, is probably its chairwoman. In an Elite Eight win over Louisville this April, she finished with 20 points, two fewer than Thomas. In a season-ending loss to Notre Dame the following game, she had a game-high eight assists.
"It was definitely a coming out-party for this team," Brown said.
But because she is not Thomas, and because no one else on the team is Thomas-esque — at least, not yet — the Terps' playing style could be as different as their conference.
Thomas, nicknamed "Baby 'Bron-'Bron," after fellow forward and NBA All-Star LeBron James, was a put-back machine in her career, collecting misses, often her own, and finishing what she started inside.
There are no expectations for a reprise of those shows of sheer will and brute strength. Maryland's days atop Division I's rebounding leader boards likely are over for now.
"Probably my biggest question mark of this team," Frese said. "It keeps me awake at night at the moment. So that's why we're going to have to be different. I think we're going to have to generate a lot more with our team speed. We're going to have to generate more defensively."
For years, unless the circumstances demanded it, Maryland didn't want to press or didn't have to press. Rebounds were their great equalizer.
That will change, perhaps as soon as the Terps' Nov. 14 season opener against Mount St. Mary's.
"We're on everyone, 94 by 50," redshirt freshman forward A'Lexus Harrison (Digital Harbor) said, referring to the dimensions, in feet, of a basketball court. "If you score, you better get it out quick because we're there. We're waiting for you."
Brown and Harrison, along with sophomore center Brionna Jones (Aberdeen), sophomore guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and senior guard Laurin Mincy, all played with Thomas, all saw how she could carry a team. Now it is their team, and everyone knows it.
"Obviously, we don't have a three-time All-American," Frese said.