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Women’s Basketball: A Senior Day weekend for the ages

Kevin Foote, The Advertiser, March 2, 2016



UL coach Garry Brodhead and senior guard Keke Veal played key roles in the building of the women’s basketball program.(Photo: Advertiser file photo)



There will be coaching staffs and senior classes holding ceremonies all over the country this weekend as the men’s and women’s college basketball season comes to a close.

It’s just hard to imagine very many ceremonies as close, personal and family-oriented as the one that will take place Saturday at the Cajundome.

UL women’s coach Garry Brodhead will be holding Senior Day activities for three members of his first signing class, as well as one very familiar hold-over prior to the Cajuns’ 5 p.m. Sun Belt regular-season finale against Georgia Southern.

Most senior days with this many players are composed of coaches and players from different areas — coaches who typically didn’t know the players until they started recruiting them.

That’s not the case with this program.

Brodhead and assistant coach Deacon Jones have been knowing and working with this senior class of Keke Veal, Kia Wilridge, Adrienne Prejean and Brooklyn Arceneaux since they were in the fourth and fifth grades.

“It really is a very unconventional, very intimate situation here, very different from the norm,” Jones said.

There’s a lot of history here, stemming back to the days in the Acadiana Stars biddy basketball program.

Running that program was Brodhead’s wife, Andrea. Jones was a part of it as well.

There’s a lot of family here, with Andrea’s open-arms approach helping so many of these families and providing so many opportunities.

How ironic that during the bulk of their college careers, these four local products helped the Brodhead family battle Andrea’s cancer and eventual death this past September.

“It’s really been a pleasure coaching them,” Brodhead said. “We owe them so much. They mean so much more to me than the wins and losses. They will never leave me. They’ll be a part of my life forever.”

For Jones, he expects to feel much more like a parent than a coach during Saturday’s ceremony.

“It’s like watching your kids grow up,” he said. “To watch them go to high school and then get college scholarships. And they’re still not done yet.

“But really, it’s been a storybook ride. This is something unusual. This is something you’ve got to cherish.”

Four seniors and two coaches — all born and raised in the Acadiana area — building a program from the ground up … together.

“They laid the foundation for future girls to follow, for the future Kias, Kekes, Brooklyns and Adriennes from our area,” Jones said. “These girls showed that you don’t need to search for other places. You can do it right here at home.”


UL’s Brooklyn Arceneaux, shown here battling in low post against Arkansas State, continues to adjust to a different role for the Ragin’ Cajuns. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Jonesboro Sun)

More than even the other three, Arceneaux has seen the progress. A year older, the former St. Thomas More star played on the 7-23, 1-15 team the season prior to Brodhead’s arrival.

“When I got here, I guess you could say that the program was at rock bottom,” Arceneaux said. “We worked hard to help build the program. Now that I’m older, I can really see how far the program has come. I feel like we made a difference.”

After breaking through with a 23-12 record last season, the program Arceneaux is about to leave is frustrated with an 18-9, 11-7 record with two games left in the regular season. What a different perspective from this side of a rebuilding process.

It’s much more than the winning, though. Arceneaux said she learned the value of working hard to achieve her goals. She could have stopped playing after her major knee injury, but sat out last season and observed.

“It was a different perspective,” she said. “I learned so much about why he (Brodhead) gets on you and how much you can benefit from it.”

Even the shattering midseason news that junior guard Jaylyn Gordon was suspended from the squad illustrated to Arceneaux that Brodhead cared more for her future well-being than he did for the team’s win-loss record.

“He’s more worried about her future once she’s done with basketball,” she said.

UL forward Adrienne Prejean (14) is one of the unsung

UL forward Adrienne Prejean (14) is one of the unsung heroes for the Ragin’ Cajun women’s team this season. (Photo: Paul Kieu/The Advertiser)

Like so many seniors nearing the end, Prejean is both excited and sad about this weekend’s games.

“It’s coming too fast,” she said. “My last games at the Cajundome?”

Prejean thought back to those “really long, hard practices” during her freshman season when Brodhead was trying to teach his new program his way of playing defense.

Now Prejean and the rest of this senior class are teaching the newcomers.

“That’s the wrong way to do it,” Prejean has caught herself relaying to newcomers this season.

RELATED: Meet the 2016 women’s basketball signing class

Prejean entered the program with a blue-collar mentality and it’s never left her.

Prior to her college career, she helped build a new legacy at Lafayette High with district titles throughout her career and eventually a state championship.

Since she’s arrived at UL, Prejean remembers going to the Sun Belt Tournament with seven players as a freshman. During her stay, the Cajuns have qualified for the postseason tournament each year and added a WBI crown in her junior season.

“I think our class has done a lot to build a future for the program,” Prejean said. “I think the biggest lesson we learned is that if you want something bad enough, you just do it, no matter how much effort it takes.”

The other half of the senior quartet is a duo that will leave with so many of the program’s all-time individual records. Veal will likely finish as the program’s No. 2 all-time scorer, and she’s about to move into sixth place on the assists list.

What really makes Brodhead proud, though, is the leadership Veal has displayed since Gordon’s departure.

“This last month, it’s really been a pleasure to coach her,” he said.

Keke Veal (24) and Kia Wilridge (10) go down the floor

Keke Veal (24) and Kia Wilridge (10) go down the floor Thursday in the Cajuns’ loss to Troy. (Photo: Chris Davis/Troy University)

Wilridge, meanwhile, has been the ultimate unselfish player who any coach would love to work with. She’s currently fifth all-time in assists and just nine points away from moving

into the sixth spot in scoring.

“Kia’s helped me so much as a coach,” Brodhead said. “She’s helped me to improve as a coach.”

Originally, Wilridge and Veal signed at McNeese State when Brodhead was an assistant coach there, only to follow Brodhead to UL later that offseason.

“That said so much about how much they believed in us,” Brodhead said. “To go from a winning program to a losing program like that … we owe them a lot.”

Now comes the chore of finishing what they started.

“We’re not done yet,” Arceneaux said. “We definitely still believe.”

Either way, you know Brodhead and Jones will be using these four seniors as object lessons for future Ragin’ Cajuns for years to come.

“We better be his favorite (signing) class,” Prejean laughed.

Don’t worry, Adrienne, there’s little doubt about that.

There is no replacing what this group has done for Brodhead’s program when it needed it the most.

Ga. State at UL Women

Game: 5 p.m., Thursday, Cajundome.

Records: Ga. St. 10-17, 5-14; UL 18-9, 11-7.

Radio: KPEL 1420 AM.

Last game: UL won 77-57 in Atlanta on Jan. 16.

Top scorers: Ga. St – Makeba Ponder (11.7 pts, 7.6 rebs); Astaja Tyghter (9.0 pts, 4.8 rebs); Madison Newby (8.9 pts, 3.9 rebs); UL – Kia Wilridge (11.6 pts, 5.1 rebs); Keke Veal (16.9 pts, 3.7 rebs); Simone Fields (8.4 pts, 4.6 rebs); Brooklyn Arceneaux (4.6 pts, 4.6 rebs).