Brenda Frese believes in Angels. Well, certainly the 6-foot-3 one from Baltimore that is lighting up Maryland basketball preseason practices.
Sure, the ultra-talented swing guard/forward from St. Frances Academy was the No. 2 recruit in all the land and has all the skills that go along with that status, but other things have caught the eye of Frese and Reese’s Terrapin teammates.
Frese cited a recent example involving redshirt freshman Zoe Young, still recovering from the knee surgery that kept Young out all last year.
“She has been slowed and the first time she came into a shooting drill, the first shot she made, Angel went crazy, so excited for her,” Frese said. “You expect that from veteran leaders, understanding Zoe would be nervous, but for Angel to take that on herself … she just has phenomenal awareness of the pulse of her team.”
That kind of thing might not show up on a stat sheet, but it should translate to a lot of wins for a team that has lost four starters and six of nine players off last year’s 28-4, Big Ten championship squad.
“I knew that this year there weren’t many upperclassmen so I had to step in and be a leader,” said Reese, who doesn’t talk, play or act like a freshman. “I’ve always been a leader because I like to be vocal and try to encourage my teammates. Communication is what wins games.”
Well, communication and good players and coaches, which it should be pointed out Maryland still has by the basketful. Reese, in particular, has a versatile inside-out game that will define this edition of the Terrapins. Most importantly, she’s not the only one. Frese is already referring to the Terrapin trinity of Reese, last year’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year Ashley Owusu, and the blossoming Diamond Miller as Maryland’s “Big Three.”
Now add in Tennessee transfer Mimi Collins, fully eligible after sitting out last year, and new transfers Katie Benzan and Chloe Bibby (both eligible). Frese reloaded quickly after the graduation of all-timer Kaila Charles, steady Stephanie Jones and Blair Watson and the notable transfers of Shakira Austin and Taylor Mikesell.
“I know a lot of people have doubted us, but this is the most competitive team — Coach Frese talks about it all the time — she has ever had,” said Reese. “Everybody is fighting every day in practice. I know a lot of people think because we lost a few people we’re going to be down, but I feel like this team is great. Everybody is on the same page and ready to win.”
Frese credits Reese with bringing a lot of that escalated competitiveness to College Park this season.
“Angel Reese is as good as advertised, if not better,” Frese said. “She’s playing at a level that’s pretty special as a freshman coming in: super dynamic between her scoring, her rebounding, her ability to get other people shots. Just her confidence level has been tremendous.”
Frese had more on the fabulous frosh.
“Obviously I knew how talented she was,” Frese said. “It’s all the other intangibles for me with her. Most freshmen, they come in and have to figure it out while they’re learning. Angel has come in and been a strong leader right out of the gate. I think what’s so special [is that] she is one of the most competitive players on the court all the time, and she’s not afraid to show it. You don’t see many freshmen come in and raise the level of play through their competitiveness and confidence.”
Those traits will come in handy this winter when the arenas will be mostly empty and teams will have to produce their own energy. Frese is already talking about how this team should excel in those situations because of what she’s seeing from them every day.
Reese credits her motivation and leadership qualities from her time at high-powered programs like AAU dynasty Team Takeover and at St. Frances. The Panthers won three straight Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland championships and two conference titles during Reese’s tenure. Her advanced abilities, her temperament and toughness made her a team leader in those circumstances as well.
At Maryland, she’s the most touted addition on a squad composed of nine players in either their first or second season with the Terrapins. She’s not the only one expected to have a big impact, though. Harvard transfer Benzan is a perimeter shooter tailor-made to replace Mikesell, and Mississippi State’s 6-foot-1 Bibby has been to a Final Four and brings that invaluable experience in addition to size on the glass and a soft perimeter touch.
Coupled with the 6-foot-3 Collins, there’s more college hoops know-how than readily apparent on the roster at first glance.
“Our team has really been built differently,” Frese explained. “Katie and Chloe have played at such a high level and have picked up things very quickly. Mimi was working all year with us so it’s not like she’s someone new to the mix. They have picked up defense very quickly, offense, [and] they are gelling extremely well.”
Frese is concerned about “going from zero to 100” without any exhibition games before the Terrapins play for real Nov. 27 against Davidson in the Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Fla., the first of three games there. The rest of the schedule is still to be determined at the — this just in — Big Ten proceeds cautiously, but the Terrapins certainly aren’t the only basketball team in this boat in these uncertain waters.
Frese couches her assessment of the Big Ten by saying there’s an “asterisk that you have all your healthy players,” considering the pandemic. Pressed, Frese thinks Northwestern will be a national contender, Indiana and Michigan will be strong and Iowa is always in the thick of things.
And speaking of “press,” look for more of that from the Terrapins, who are ridiculously long and athletic with seven players 6-foot or taller. Reese is one of those at 6-3, and she’ll be all over the court. She’s working primarily at power forward where coaches love her rebounding and accompanying ability to push the ball herself.
“[Coach Frese] calls me a gazelle,” Reese said. “Right now, I’m at the top of the press and cause commotion. Me and Diamond being bigger, longer guards helps a lot. My role is to do whatever Coach says. I can play [center], whatever Coach asks me to do. I’m really ready to win. This team knows that last year we were cut short and this year we’re ready to fight for a national championship.”
Reese has always set the bar high and that’s why she’s such a good fit at her state’s flagship program. She not only walks the walk as a top player, she talks the talk as a team leader right out of the box. She grew up with a prime example of stick-to-it, get-the-job-done leadership in her single-parent home. Mother Angel, who also played college basketball at UMBC, brought up Angel and brother Julian, who will enroll and play for the Terrapin men’s team next year.
“My mom made me independent,” said the younger Angel. “I don’t rely on anybody. I do a lot of things on my own. I pay my phone bill. I fix my car insurance. I do everything on my own because she has taught me not to depend on anybody, but to always be a good, positive person. You don’t know what someone else is going through during the day.”
Reese pushes her teammates and it’s already making Maryland mightier in a season when some thought the Terrapins might take a step back.
Not on Angel Reese’s watch.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics