October 26, 2012 11:35:55 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- A year ago, a phalanx of reporters and television cameras surrounded University of Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt and associate head coach Holly Warlick for their appearance at the Southeastern Conference Basketball Media Day.
Some were there in anticipation of an announcement by Summitt that she would retire as coach. Instead, Summitt talked about being diagnosed with early on-set dementia and the challenges she, the program, and Warlick would face going forward.
Questions about Summitt, the state of Tennessee women's basketball, and what would happen dogged the Lady Volunteers throughout the 2011-12 season.
Brett Frank hopes persistent questions don't follow him and the University of Mississippi the same way this season.
Frank, who was named Wednesday the school's acting women's basketball coach, sat Thursday in nearly the same place as Summitt and Warlick in one of the conference rooms at the Wynfrey Hotel for his appearance at the 2012 SEC Media Day. He didn't have to face a wall of television cameras and microphones, but he did have to begin to explain how the Rebels were going to work their way out of a scandal that has engulfed the program.
"While it's not my choice that things occurred the way they did, I accept this as a challenge and am ready to take that next step and lead this team," Frank said. "Whatever additional responsibilities that befall on me at this time, I am more than happy to accept and give it my best."
Last week, Ole Miss put new head coach Adrian Wiggins on administrative leave and fired assistant coach Kenya Landers and director of basketball operations Michael Landers after it announced the athletic department was working with the NCAA to examine "impermissible recruiting contacts and academic misconduct."
In addition to the coaching moves, student-athletes Kay Caples and Brandy Broome were declared ineligible after failing to meet NCAA transfer eligibility standards.
Rebecca Kates-Taylor will continue to serve as assistant coach, while Taja Edwards has been elevated from coordinator of video services to assistant coach.
Frank worked with Wiggins, who was the head coach, at Fresno State University. He has been an assistant coach at the college level for 17 seasons, and been a part of five NCAA tournament appearances. He was associate head coach at Fresno State from 2010-12. Last season, Fresno State won a school-record 28 games advanced to the NCAA tournament for the fifth year in a row.
The hope was Wiggins and his new staff would breathe life into a program coming off back-to-back 10-19 and 12-18 seasons. Now Frank is left to work with a depleted roster and a short-handed staff in arguably the nation's toughest women's basketball conference.
Frank opened his remarks with a two-minute, 10 second statement in which he thanked Ole Miss Athletic Director Ross Bjork for the support he has shown the program and gratitude for the confidence he has shown in him to lead the program. He said it "saddened" everyone that Wiggins no longer was with the program, especially since he considers him a "close friend" and that he had worked with him for the past 10 years.
But Frank didn't dwell on what happened or past relationships. He focused on moving forward and that he saw a "new energy and intensity" from the players. After being picked in the preseason poll to finish 12th in the league, Frank knows it will be a challenge to maintain that energy and positive vibe.
"Our team is a resilient group," Frank said. "They have been through some challenges, but I think they have really bonded together and really believe in each other. ... It is amazing how much closer they have become over the past few weeks. I expect them to bounce back and that they will be ready to compete Nov. 9 (in the season opener against Southeastern Louisiana)."
Ole Miss will have to do that with a 11-player roster that features only two seniors. Junior guard Valencia McFarland (13.5 points per game) is the only returning players who averaged double figures.
Frank said he didn't know if any other coaches would join the staff. He also declined to speculate about his chances to turn what essentially could be an extended job interview into a possible permanent appointment. He said he anticipates he will use a similar offensive scheme and that he hopes the Rebels can pressure the basketball and force teams to put the ball on the floor.
On Thursday, Frank took the first step toward taking on the program's biggest challenge and didn't back down. He said he won't worry if questions about Wiggins and academic fraud linger over the program this season.
"I hope that moving forward the focus can be on the 11 student-athletes we have at Ole Miss and their efforts to become the best team they can be," Frank said. "Hopefully, we put out an exciting product and that it is an exciting product that you want to talk about."
Associated Press reports were included in this story.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.