Arizona Women's Basketball

PODCAST: Naranjo, Craig & Gimino discuss Frese’s Arizona background, coaching success

The latest All Sports Tucson Talk podcast includes Brenda Frese’s former teammate Greta Naranjo and assistant coach Bob Craig at Arizona. Also part of the podcast is Anthony Gimino, who was the women’s basketball sports information specialist at Arizona when Frese played at Arizona. He also reported on Frese and the Wildcats at the Arizona Daily Star. Frese’s Maryland Terrapins will play her alma mater Arizona in the Round of 32 of the NCAA tournament on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. (Tucson time) at College Park, Md.

Brenda Frese (center top) with some of her former Arizona teammates, including Greta Naranjo standing to Frese’s left. Others pictured Julie Meyer-Mendivil, Timi Brown, Mary Klemm, Tina Giordano, Melissa Handley, Regina Grennan and Amy Livingston (Naranjo photo)

Brenda Frese, one of Iowa’s top Class of 1987 prospects out of Cedar Rapids, could have went to many Midwestern schools, but she chose Arizona although June Olkowski was an interim head coach.

Wendy Larry left to Old Dominion before the 1987-88 season but Frese and her family remained true to Olkowski, one of Larry’s assistants at Arizona.

Former Arizona athletic director Cedric Dempsey mentioned that Olkowski would be evaluated in the 1987-88 season before taking over the program as the permanent head coach. At that time in Arizona, coaches had one-year contracts any way, which almost caused Lute Olson to leave.

The signing of Frese, a 5-foot-10 sharp-shooting guard, on Nov. 23, 1987, benefitted Olkowski becoming Arizona’s permanent coach in 1988-89.

“I like Brenda’s work ethic,” Olkowski told the Arizona Daily Star when Frese signed. “Not a day goes by that she doesn’t shoot. She was going crazy when she was down here on her recruiting trip and she hadn’t shot in three days.”

Brenda Frese (left) and Julie Meyer-Mendivil remain close friends after being Arizona teammates (Meyer-Mendivil photo)

Frese experienced a difficult freshman season away from home, averaging only 12 minutes a game, and told Olkowski after that school year that she wanted to transfer to Iowa.

Three months later, in early August 1989, Frese had a change of heart and contacted Olkowski that she wanted to remain at Arizona.

“I realized I made the biggest mistake of my life,” Frese told Anthony Gimino, a former Arizona women’s basketball sports information specialist who later wrote about the program for the Arizona Daily Star.

“I wasn’t ready to grow up. I wanted to come back and have things the way they were in high school. But it wasn’t like that at all. Somewhere along the line, I had to grow up.”

Frese’s decision to stay in Tucson has impacted her life to this day, 34 years later.

She developed life-long relationships with her former Arizona teammates, which is a light-hearted matter coaching against her alma mater Sunday when the Wildcats face her Maryland Terrapins in the Round of 32 of the NCAA tournament at College Park, Md.

I asked Frese during Maryland’s postgame press conference after beating Holy Cross 93-61 on Friday about that dynamic of having to coach against her alma mater especially with her likely to get text messages and phone calls from her former teammates.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Frese said smiling. “We’re talking about doing a reunion in the offseason so I’m gonna have to see who they’re rooting for in this game.

“But yeah, you know, I mean, (attending) college are the best years of your life and so I am I’m really close to my college teammates that I was able to play with out in Arizona.”

Frese expanded on the topic during Saturday’s press conference, mentioning she has learned through her mother about Julie Meyer-Mendivil posting on Facebook that she will support her close friend and Maryland during the game.

“There’s a group of us as teammates, and I haven’t had time yet to hit the chat yet who they’re all rooting for, because we’re doing a college reunion in May where a lot of us are coming together,” she said. “It’s fun. I know we were all rooting for Arizona back when we were in the (COVID-19) bubble as they made their run.

“So definitely, I’m sure divided, but I would think as teammates we stay in very close contact with one another as observed by the reunion that we’re going to have. So I’m pretty sure I know where they lie.”

Frese established herself as one of the Pac-10’s top players as a sophomore in 1988-89, becoming a full-time starter and averaging 13.7 points and 5.9 rebounds a game. After that season, she toured Germany with a group of Pac-10 all-stars and led that team with 20.3 points and 7.5 rebounds a game.

But then she started to incur foot and Achilles’ tendon problems over the last three years of her Wildcat career, forcing her to medically redshirt the 1990-91 season.

Following another surgery before her senior season on 1992-93, Frese retired from basketball and moved on to coach that season at Pima College as a graduate assistant under Susie Pulido.

Brenda Frese (far left, No. 24) during her career with the Arizona Wildcats (Arizona Athletics photo)

In an interview with last year, Frese said playing for two different coaches — Olkowski and Joan Bonvicini — at Arizona in her final two seasons was the impetus for her coaching career.

“I think I had the highs and lows when I was at Arizona,” she said. “I was so happy with my decision (to attend Arizona). I went away from home (in Cedar Rapids, Iowa) — 26 hours (driving).

“I got to be coached by two great coaches when you talk about Joan Bonvicini and June Olkowski. June recruited me and then Joan came in behind it. For me, that’s where I kind of got my lens of watching coaches in the locker room and seeing the different philosophies. … Ultimately, kind of an ironic blessing in disguise (with the foot injuries) because it really propelled my coaching career to get into it sooner.”

After being an assistant coach at Kent State and Iowa State, Frese became a head coach for the first time at Ball State in 1999-2000. She went from there to Minnesota in 2001-02 and was hired by Maryland in 2002-03.

Her career record is 618-175 record in 24 years as a head coach.

She earned a national championship in the 2005-06 season at Maryland.

The season before that, Frese and the Terrapins visited McKale Center. Maryland prevailed 84-77 in overtime.

She had 41 people on her pass list for that game including four for her Arizona teammates, including Meyer-Mendivil and former assistant coach Bob Craig.

“The family recruited Brenda (to Arizona),” Craig said Saturday, reflecting on Frese’s decision come to Tucson from Cedar Rapids. “They felt very, very comfortable with us and the feeling was mutual. That was 90 percent of it.

“It was a mutual respect we had for each other and we genuinely liked each other.”

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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