Timing right for Frett Meredith's Virginia homecoming

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Virginia assistant coaching position brings her closer to family in Hampton.

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Basketball ruled and enriched La'Keshia Frett Meredith's life for more than 20 years. As player and coach, at home and abroad, the game brought her recognition, fulfillment and financial security.

In 2011, she downshifted.

“I'd been married for two years,” said Frett Meredith, the University of Virginia's newest assistant coach, “and from my playing (days) into coaching, I'd been in that fast-paced lane and just sacrificing so much for what I wanted to do for my career. It was time to take some personal time and slow down.”

Frett Meredith didn't abandon basketball, mind you. Rather, her transition from a University of Georgia assistant coach to the program's operations director was a nuanced change that curtailed her travels and responsibilities.

But after two seasons away from coaching, away from the daily teaching, strategizing and camaraderie, Frett Meredith realized a return was inevitable. The question was when and where an opportunity would emerge.

The answer was last month at U.Va., a welcome two-hour drive from her parents in Hampton and among her most intense suitors during an incomparable career at Phoebus High.

“Sometimes when you take a step back away from something that you've done, and then you're able to come back and be involved in it again, you have a greater appreciation,” Frett Meredith said during an interview last week in her office at John Paul Jones Arena.

“Same as an athlete when you get hurt, and you have to sit and watch from afar. When you get back out there, you have a new appreciation. You learn something from watching.”

Frett Meredith didn't watch much.

A 6-foot-3 forward, she was Parade Magazine's 1993 national high school Player of the Year, carried Phoebus to the 1992 state championship — the title game was at U.Va.'s University Hall — and remains the Virginia High School League's career scoring leader, girls and boys.

“She's the best female I've ever coached and the best that's ever played around here, and it's not even close,” said Boo Williams, Hampton Roads' youth basketball authority.

After a spirited recruiting battle between Virginia and Georgia, Frett Meredith chose the Lady Bulldogs, earned All-America honors and competed in two Final Fours. Professional basketball took her to teams in — deep breath here — Richmond, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Sacramento, New York, Charlotte, Hungary, Israel, South Korea and Spain.

Frett Meredith then joined Andy Landers' Georgia staff, serving as an assistant coach for six seasons. Landers is a mentor and friend, and Athens, Ga., is a consummate college town, making her departure emotional.

“Coach Landers was wonderful,” Frett Meredith said. “It was almost as if I was no longer an employee of his, but more so like a daughter. I wouldn't have expected anything else, because that's how he's treated me since I was a student-athlete there. … The decision to leave Georgia was very difficult, a place that's been good to me and good for me.”

But Frett Meredith's sole exposure to the college game was through Landers and the Lady Bulldogs. Virginia and head coach Joanne Boyle offered new perspectives and a much shorter commute to Hampton.

“Having been away since college,” Frett Meredith said, “I kind of forget how nice it is to just get in a car and drive two hours to see my mom and dad. (And) being here gives me an opportunity to work for someone else and see how they do things, and I think ultimately … that's necessary.”

Frett Meredith replaces Ashley Earley, who left after one season to become an assistant at her alma mater, Vanderbilt. Cavaliers assistant Kim McNeill is a former co-worker of Frett Meredith's at Georgia and encouraged her to explore the Virginia position.

Entering her third season with the Cavaliers, Boyle, a Duke assistant during Frett Meredith's high school days, required no convincing.

“She brings so much to the table, with her knowledge of the game and experience,” Boyle told VirginiaSports.com's Jeff White. “She's a great fit for our staff with her personality. Just really calm and mature. …

“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?”

At 38, Frett Meredith still looks the part of elite player. She and her husband, Dion — he's a 6-5 former defensive end who works in law enforcement — play one-on-one for kicks, and she'll occasionally wander into a pickup game.

But most of her court time now will be reserved for tutoring Virginia's post players.

That return to a teacher's role, lacing up the high-tops to show the Cavaliers' bigs how best to execute a drop-step and overplay an entry pass, is very appealing.

“Helping them reach their goals on and off the court is the part that touches me most,” Frett Meredith said. “It gives me a chance to give back and share my experiences.

“A lot of them probably don't remember (my career), had never seen, never heard. That's fine with me. … I would hope that what I'm able to teach them and my knowledge of the games gives me just as much credibility. …

“It helps that I've done some things, but at this point, I hope my credibility comes more from on the court and my teaching.”

David Teel can be reached at 757-247-4636 or by email at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/ teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP

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