One Last Home Game For Brodhead’s Building Blocks
Keke Veal, Kia Wilridge, Adrienne Prejean, Brooklyn Arceneaux and Jasmin Mills are names Garry Brodhead will never forget. They made a leap of faith to play for him, and they helped him build a winner with their bare hands.
They're like his daughters, and they're about to grow up and leave the house, so to speak. One more game at the Cajundome this Saturday, then they're off to one last adventure in the postseason. Time flies.
Women's basketball doesn't get as much attention as other sports, for a variety of unfortunate reasons. As a result, most people don't understand how hard Brodhead and his seniors worked to turn the Cajun basketball program around. The year before Brodhead arrived (summer 2012), the team only won seven games. By the end of the 2013-2014 season, they doubled that total. Last year, the team broke out for 23 wins, and a win on senior night would mark the first time in program history they repeated 20 win seasons.
Brodhead wouldn't be comfortable calling the turnaround miraculous. There wasn't any divine intervention that led them to this point. Their wins came with a culture change, and they went against the grain in the current climate of collegiate athletics. He did it with local products too, from right here in Lafayette.
At every level of sports, fans crave offense. Rule changes are put in place to increase scoring, and defense pays the price. Most teams adapt by throwing the nitty gritty part of the game to the side trying to keep up in a track meet, but Brodhead's team decided to buck the trend and embrace a part of the game that is getting lost at many levels.
Keke Veal and Kia Wilridge are perfect examples of the Garry Brodhead formula for success. They trusted his vision when they decided to follow him from McNeese State to Lafayette, and they will leave as two of the greatest players to ever suit up for the Cajuns.
When Brodhead's teams are at their best, the defense is suffocating and the effort is unparalleled. Veal and Wilridge spearhead that attack, hounding opposing guards and ball handlers into countless mistakes. They have 490 combined steals in their career, to go along with their 2,731 points on the opposite end. Their aggressive approach to the game pays off on both ends, and opposing teams often aren't ready for their intensity and athleticism.
Tales of Wilridge's fierce competitive nature will surely live on in the program's history, especially from her time at practice.
Coach Brodhead talks about how the coaches had to pull Wilridge out of rebounding drills because too many of her teammates were getting hurt. Players were getting concussions, bruises and other injuries every time she sacrificed her body for the ball. From that point on, Brodhead asked Wilridge to save those efforts for the game, when the opponents had to deal with her instead. The same fighter's spirit courses through Veal's veins. You can often find her at the university rec center, embarrassing all men who dare to underestimate her skills.
You just don't see teams like this anymore. Embracing Brodhead's counter-culture approach to basketball takes a certain mentality, which is why this senior class is so special.
Veal, Wilridge, Arceneaux, Prejean and Mills all set the tone for the new recruits. Every incoming class learned from them that defense, rebounding and effort are the way to earn your minutes. When they play their last game (hopefully in a few weeks), their presence in the program will still be felt for years to come.
At the beginning of the season, I wrote an article about Brodhead growing the program slowly, like a plant. At that point in time, I had no idea his previous occupation was as a farmer. Everything makes sense now. Let me explain.
Farming takes hard work and patience. A farmer's handshake is different than a normal man's. His hands have thick callouses, and you can probably see dirt under their nails from a hard days work. To get crops to grow, you have to work with the earth. Tear it up, plant your seeds, water and nurture the soil back to health until your seeds start to sprout. Fostering that young plant takes care and time, and a little love never hurt. It's hard work, but it's rewarding. You watch your fields grow before your eyes, then you start anew when the crop is gone.
When Brodhead got to Lafayette, he was looking at a rough landscape. He had to tear the ground up upon arrival and start from scratch. He had to grow his crop seed by seed, one generation leading to the next. The process gets easier as you go along, but the beginning is always the hardest part.
This senior class helped him till the soil. They have the same dirt under their fingernails as their coach. Their skin is thick now, calloused from seasons of struggle and adversity. They weathered many storms and are now at full maturity. For their final harvest, they want to bring home the best bounty yet.
People often said apples don't fall far from the tree. Brodhead isn't these senior's father, and they're not his daughters. That being the said, they're the trees that started his orchard. Every other row behind them will be modeled in their fashion, and they will always be remembered as the first of a special breed.