College Park, MD -- The accolades earned by the Maryland women's basketball program are apparent when you wander the basketball facilities at the Xfinity Center. The center court floor from a national championship mounted in the hallway. Framed jerseys of players in the WNBA. The countless trophies and other awards in the locker room entryway.
The success is obvious, but what may not be obvious is how that success has come about. There was not some magic shortcut. Rather this success is due to the atmosphere created by head coach Brenda Frese in College Park. For University of Maryland women's basketball, family and fundamentals rule all.
"That's how I was raised with five other siblings and both of my parents, it was something ingrained in me," Frese said. "And if we can foster that in our program day-to-day, that builds trust, that builds unity, which is going to help you both on and off the court."
"I want our players to be able to look back at their college careers and not just remember running sprints or the negative things. I want them to remember the positive things. Like, ‘Hey I had one of the best college experiences, and it was built on this.'"
Of course, no program can be perfect. Maryland suffered a tumultuous offseason filled with transition and change. Starting point guard Lexie Brown transferred, leading scorer Lauren Mincy graduated, and two assistant coaches took head coaching jobs elsewhere. But the family atmosphere that surrounds the program made those within it bond closer together.
"Coach B always says that change is a part of life. And the quicker that you can adapt to change the more successful you'll be in life," junior Shatori Walker-Kimbrough said. "Our focus could have went so many different ways, but I thought we stayed focused and stayed within our family and focused on our family to make ourselves and our team better."
That importance of family only becomes more prevalent when you observe the program that Frese has been at the helm of for the past 13 seasons. It's clear that when she runs practice, intensity and fundamentals are more important than duration.
Frese is not a coach who will scream at her players day in and day out ("I'm definitely a players' coach," she said.) She gives them a chance to knock off sprints by quizzing them about each other. She tells them who her "favorites" are, but makes sure to reiterate that anyone can be her favorite.
That is not to say that practice is easy by any stretch of the imagination. Fundamentals and the importance of giving every drill or possession your all are stressed. And the most apparent thing during a Maryland practice is how hard her players are willing to work for her and each other.
"I wouldn't want to play for any other coach. That might sound scripted, but I really wouldn't want to play," Walker-Kimbrough said. "The way that she pushes me to the best me possible, not even just on the court but off the court as well. Just checking in and texting me how I'm doing. It's more than basketball, and that's what I appreciate the most about her."
"I talk to a lot of my other friends, and they don't have coaches that know them personally or know them outside of basketball and I would say Coach B, top to bottom could tell you what we all do outside of basketball," starting point guard Chloe Pavlech said.
"She loves us. She's like a mom to all of us, and I think that's big. She's all about family, and I love that about her," senior Malina Howard said. "And she just has so much passion. We never doubt how much she cares about us, how much she cares about the university and the program."
The players are not the only ones who recognize Frese's innate ability to motivate and challenge those who play for her. Her assistant coaches also understand the uniqueness of her program.
"I think she's the best at what she does," said assistant coach Bett Shelby. "Our kids play for her. I think what she's really, really good at is she gets a little bit more out of them than they even knew they had in them. She just has an amazing way about her to get the best out of people."
"She's created a family amongst all the kids and all the people who have been a part of the program. Now she makes sure everyone stays connected," assistant coach Terry Nooner said.
"I think coach's passion and energy, not only for the game of basketball but for everyone in the program," assistant coach Shay Robinson said. "I mean she has passion and energy about you and your family and every person involved with the program and on the team."
Those within the Maryland program recognize the special atmosphere that Frese fosters. Of course there are always naysayers, those who believe Maryland will have a drop-off point during their season-- but Maryland is no stranger to success. Back-to-back Final Fours in 2014 and 2015. A national championship in 2006. An 88-18 record over the last three seasons. All of that is evident in the Xfinity Center.
"I'm sure probably someday, maybe when I'm dead, there will be the belief in Maryland," Frese joked. "But you just have to continue to do what you do. I'm really proud of what we've built here."
For now, Maryland is focusing on winning one game at a time in their quest for a national championship. Not to silence the naysayers, not to prove that they are one of the greats, and not to add more awards to their locker room. Their goals exist for each other, because the family that Frese builds is what is most important.