By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The University of Virginia women’s basketball program intensely courted La’Keshia Frett when she was an All-American post player at Phoebus High in Hampton, only to see her sign with Georgia.
Two decades later, she’s finally a Cavalier.
“I’m happy to be here,” Frett Meredith said with a smile in her office at John Paul Jones Arena.
Frett Meredith, whose parents still live in Hampton, replaced Ashley Earley, who left UVa after one season to return to her alma mater, Vanderbilt. A four-time All-SEC performer at Georgia, Frett Meredith will work with the Cavaliers’ post players.
“She brings so much to the table, with her knowledge of the game and experience,” Boyle said. “She’s a great fit for our staff with her personality. Just really calm and mature.”
Not long after the job opened, Boyle said she planned to “shoot really high” in her search for Earley’s replacement. Her targets, Boyle confirmed last week, included Frett Meredith, the Georgia women’s program’s director of basketball operations in 2011-12 and 2012-13.
“How can you go wrong with somebody that’s played at the highest level everywhere she’s gone and been a winner and exceeded normalcy on all those platforms?” Boyle said.
The Wahoos had an in with Frett Meredith. UVa assistant coach Kim McNeill worked alongside her on head coach Andy Landers’ staff at Georgia for four years.
When she learned that Earley was headed to Vandy, McNeill suggested Frett Meredith to Boyle as a potential candidate. McNeill is married to Cory McNeill, another Virginia assistant, and he spoke highly of Frett Meredith, too.
“You want good people around you and good people around the kids,” Kim McNeill said. “When we were at Georgia, the kids absolutely loved her. I don’t think you’ll meet a better person than Keshia Frett.”
After leaving Athens for Charlottesville in the spring of 2011, Kim McNeill continued to talk regularly with Frett Meredith. Before moving into an operations role, Frett Meredith had been an assistant at Georgia for six seasons, and “I knew she was itching to get back [on the court],” McNeill said.
Boyle said: “Like everything else in life, it was about timing. She wasn’t looking to leave Georgia. She just had the itch to get back [into coaching] if it was the right program. The timing and the fit here were perfect.”
Even so, it “was definitely a hard decision for me,” said Frett Meredith, whose husband works in law enforcement.
The position at UVa interested her partly because of the coaches she’d work with, Frett Meredith said. “That is most important to me when looking at an opportunity like this — the people. Of course I knew Kim and Cory, but after speaking with Joanne, it felt good. So that was the initial part of it.”
Also, she said, “I’m familiar with the University and the history of the women’s program, and it’s two hours away from my mom and dad and where I started it all as a high school player. And I’d been at Georgia for a long time, and I didn’t quite know if the opportunity would come for me ever to be back in the state, which I’ve always thought about.”
Frett Meredith had a legendary high school career. With 3,290 points, she’s far and away the all-time leading scorer in Virginia High School League girls basketball history. She was a three-time All-American at Phoebus and as a junior helped the Phantoms win the Group AAA state title in March 1992. (Phoebus edged Pulaski County 39-38 in the championship game at University Hall.)
Boyle was an assistant coach at her alma mater, Duke, in 1992-93. The Blue Devils were well aware of Frett Meredith’s feats at Phoebus, but “I’m sure she wasn’t looking at us,” Boyle recalled with a laugh. “I don’t think we could get in on players of her caliber then.”
Virginia’s position in the hoops world was different. UVa had one of the nation’s elite programs in the early `90s, and many observers around the state assumed Frett Meredith would choose to play for Debbie Ryan in college.
“I can remember coming to games here when the program was doing very well,” Frett Meredith said, and she seriously considered UVa. In the end, though, she decided to play for Landers at Georgia.
“I had a lot of good times as a high school player in this state, a lot of support,” Frett Meredith said. “It just happened to be that the University of Georgia was a good fit for me, and it turned out to be a good thing.”
During Frett Meredith’s playing career, Georgia won two SEC championships and made back-to-back Final Four appearances. She was a two-time All-American for the Lady Bulldogs.
Georgia played UVa twice during Frett Meredith’s college career, with each team winning once.
After college, Frett Meredith played two seasons for the Philadelphia Rage of the now-defunct American Basketball League, then moved to the WNBA. She spent seven years in that league and also played professionally in Hungary, Israel, South Korea and Spain.
“The thing about Keshia is, she’s so humble,” Kim McNeill said. “She will not talk about herself. You have to ask her questions. That’s just her personality. She’s done a lot in her career, but she’s not about to brag about herself.”
High school and college players today typically don’t remember Frett Meredith’s playing days. “Which I completely understand,” she said. “It doesn’t offend me or anything like that. But once they realize what I’ve accomplished, they think it’s neat. They think that maybe they could learn something from me.
“What is really good is that, with coaches and other people that are involved with basketball, I do have some name recognition, which helps and which starts conversations.”
Frett Meredith, wanting to become familiar with other aspects of a college program, pursued the operations position when it opened at Georgia at 2011. In that role, she dealt with travel and scheduling, among other things, and did not work on the court with players.
“What I missed is the on-court interaction with the players,” Frett Meredith recalled, “being able to directly try to influence them and share what I’ve experienced over my career as far as playing basketball, and just helping them achieve their goals and what they want to do. That’s the neat part about it.”
Being director of operations “gave me a chance to reflect on things and what type of coach I was and what I may want to do differently after watching for a time period,” Frett Meredith said.
“The jobs are in a way so different, because [in ops] you’re dealing with more of the business aspect of the program and things like that. But I think it’s always good when you have a chance to step away from something and re-evaluate yourself and then reflect on yourself. Given such an opportunity as this, being at the University of Virginia, hopefully this time around I am a better coach after taking some time off.”
Frett Meredith started at UVa on July 15. In her first week at JPJ, she was able to work on the court with her new team, and “it was good to get out there with the girls,” Frett Meredith said.
“I met them when I came on my interview, but it was definitely good to be out there and actually get a chance to coach them. I was impressed with their effort. Coach Landers would always say, `You don’t want to coach effort,’ and I didn’t have to. So that was really good, because then I could just help them with the things that I saw that maybe they needed to improve on. And they’re excited. They want to please you. They want to get better.”
The `Hoos, who finished 25-11 in 2011-12, were beset by injuries last season and dipped to 16-14. As the Cavaliers head into their third season under Boyle, they’re well-stocked with perimeter players but perilously thin in the frontcourt.
Only four UVa players are listed as taller than 5-11: 6-1 freshmen Amanda Fioravanti and Sydney Umeri and 6-2 juniors Sarah Beth Barnette and Sarah Imovbioh. Moreover, Barnette is more comfortable on the perimeter than in the post.
Adding size in the 2014-15 recruiting class is a priority for Boyle and her staff, not surprisingly, and Frett Meredith should help in that effort.
“If I was a post player coming out of high school,” Kim McNeill said, “who wouldn’t want Keshia Frett to be her position coach?”
NEXT WEEK: Season tickets for women’s basketball go on sale Monday. For information, call (800) 542-8821 or visit VirginiaSports.com/tickets.