Brodhead’s Seniors Leave A ‘Legacy Of Purpose’
Legacies are left by creators of change. As time goes on, appreciation for their work grows. Years down the line, Cajun fans will look back at Garry Brodhead's 2015-16 senior class and say, "This is the group that changed everything."
Keke Veal, Kia Wilridge, Brooklyn Arceneaux, Adrienne Prejean and Jasmin Mills were the beginning of a basketball revolution in Lafayette. Not only did they permanently alter the culture of the women's basketball program at UL, they revolted against the status quo in collegiate basketball.
Everybody wants to see offense. Rule change after rule change plays into the hand of the scorer, to the detriment of team defense. Instead of flowing with the current, Brodhead's women swam upstream. On Brodhead's team, defense is the heart of the beast, and his players bought in.
“Everything involved in basketball today is all about scoring. They want them to score 100 points, and I don’t think the game is made for that,” Brodhead said after his seniors played their final game as Cajuns, collecting a second straight WBI Championship. “For this group right here, they’re just so hardnosed. They knew from the beginning. Some of them signed with a winning program and decided to come to us because they knew the type of defense we play and the type of philosophy we have would fit them, and they would be able to excel.”
Keke Veal leaves as one of the most prolific scorers in program history, but her on-ball defense and ability to steal the ball will be missed just as much. Kia Wilridge’s defense and rebounding at the guard position is something Brodhead admitted they will probably never be able to replace. Arceneaux, Prejean and Mills, Veal and Wilridge all bought into a system that creates results but takes time to execute to perfection.
You can’t replace the individuals, but Brodhead will try to mold their followers in their fashion.
That’s what building a program takes. You can’t just have one good recruiting class and expect to succeed. Every year builds on the last, and the Cajuns started the roots for their growth deep in a bedrock of blue-collar work ethic.
“They set a foundation for us…I think they built a legacy of purpose,” Brodhead said. “It’s the measure of your heart. It’s what you give; it’s how you care about this university, and that’s what they did.”
If they realize it or not, this senior class helped Brodhead bring a dream to life.
He left his job as a successful pickle farmer to pursue a life in basketball, and he built his program with local products. Their “legacy of purpose” will live in Brodhead’s heart and in the community he loves for future groups of women to learn from.
“A legacy of purpose, it’s more than just playing basketball here. There’s more than just going to school. This is the community,” Brodhead said with a tinge of emotion touching his thick Cajun accent. “For me, it’s twenty years that I wanted to be here, and I wanted to be here with kids from around Louisiana, or talented kids that wanted to work hard, and I was blessed.”
For Brodhead, it’s about more than the back-to-back tournament championships and 20-win seasons. They did things at UL that women’s basketball teams had never done before, and while their shoes will be large to fill, their footprint will carry the Cajuns into the future.
Teams can be evaluated by banners and trophies. Success is often gauged by wins and losses. For coaches, it’s their entire career condensed into a glass case or a paper writeup. Often, the moments that matter the most for the people on the inside have nothing to do with the sport they love.
The women on that team were sisters, which would make Brodhead their father figure. He’s going to have an empty nest after this season, but there are more youngsters to grow into adulthood.
Brodhead should rest easily knowing his women learned more than just how to win basketball games during their time in his tutelage.
“They left with a championship, but I think they left with a lot more. I thought they left with a lot of character,” Brodhead said with a smile. “It’s exciting for me to see that in them. These young women, and I do say that, they’ve become women, they’re going to make a big difference in other facets of their lives.”
Some of them might go on to coach, maybe even at a local high school or for the Cajuns as a graduate assistant. Others may move on to careers outside of basketball, in business, public service or medicine. One thing is for certain: wherever they go, they will always be Cajuns.
Lafayette never really leaves you once you let it in your heart. It draws people back in, no matter how far they wander on the globe. Even if Keke Veal flies to Alaska, she will always have a Cajun fire burning deep inside her. She will also always have a coach’s shoulder to lean on long after her playing days are over.
“She’ll never be gone from my life. She’ll always be a phone call away,” Brodhead said. “It’s just what we do. It’s a mission of growing kids.”
People often worry about their legacies because they don’t get to decide them. You can toil your entire life, but it’s what you leave behind for the world to look upon that gets remembered by time’s eye.
“We just hope that the legacy that this senior class left, we can continue.”