MOSS POINT - All-star center/forward BranDee Fry of Moss Point could have chosen to enroll at an in-state school but broke the hearts of lots of basketball coaches and fans in Mississippi when she decided to leave Mississippi."> MOSS POINT - All-star center/forward BranDee Fry of Moss Point could have chosen to enroll at an in-state school but broke the hearts of lots of basketball coaches and fans in Mississippi when she decided to leave Mississippi.">

BranDee Fry Explains Her Decision

<img src="" align="left" width="120" height="161"> MOSS POINT - All-star center/forward BranDee Fry of Moss Point could have chosen to enroll at an in-state school but broke the hearts of lots of basketball coaches and fans in Mississippi when she decided to leave Mississippi.

A consensus all-state selection in her junior and senior seasons at Moss Point High, Fry scored, rebounded and blocked shots at double-figure ratios.Though she was recruited heavily by the state's largest schools, she chose not to commit anywhere and waited until the last week of April before finally announcing she would enroll at the University of Texas.

Fry had lineage to Mississippi State, where her father, Larry, was an All-Southeastern Conference player who graduated in 1975. Still, MSU didn't even make her final short list.

"If I had stayed in-state, I was definitely going to go to an SEC school," BranDee Fry said after graduating with the rest of the MPHS senior class this past week. "Mississippi State had Toya (Thomas) and Tan White returning and I knew they would be key players there. Mississippi State's got a great team. It just wasn't where I wanted to go."

Fry was living the high life that a select few prep athletes get to experience. She was looking to go to join an established program and play for a national title. She had credentials and skills that afforded her that chance and she made sure she plugged in to all that the recruiting process had to offer.

Of the state's Big 3, Mississippi State could have given her the surest backdrop for a possible championship. Still, she had other schools offering the same sort of environment.

There were nothing but powerhouse programs in this recruiting battle. Instantly ruled out were any of this state's Southwestern Athletic Conference schools and, though she had honor-roll grades, Fry never considered primarily academic institutions like Millsaps, Belhaven or Mississippi College.

"The state's largest schools were all three active in her recruitment and each was diligent in sending faxes, calling or simply keeping in touch," said Fry's high school coach Stephen Pater. "Coach (Ron) Aldy at Ole Miss never came personally but his assistant, Gil Thompson, remained in constant contact with us.

"Mississippi State was one of the first schools to actually make a presence. They were in Meridian when we went to South State in BranDee's sophomore year. Coaches can't talk to a player as a junior or sophomore, but they talked to me."

As a 10th grader, Fry helped Moss Point to its first-ever trip to the Overall State Tournament. The team duplicated the feat in her junior year and she said she was intent on making it back to the Mississippi Coliseum as a senior.

"Mississippi State wanted me to sign in the early period (as a senior) but I was too into focusing on our team at Moss Point to sign with them or anyone," Fry said. "I was concentrating on trying to help us get to the Coliseum and play for a state title. I wasn't going to sign early with anyone."

Head coach Sharon Fanning and Lady Bulldog assistant coaches were in Moss Point on more than one occasion, including the day of the terrorist attacks on America.

"Coach Fanning and her assistant, Sharon Allen, were here on Sept. 11," Pater said. "The visitation period had just opened and there were a lot of coaches traveling around the country. That was a tense day for a lot of people for a lot of reasons.

"Mississippi State was in this area quite a bit since they were also pursuing Chalandra Hilliard from St. Martin. They made a good effort and were visible to the point that BranDee definitely knew they were interested."

Fry never actually made an official recruiting visit to MSU, although she did take a look at the campus on a few football-weekend trips there. "We learned a lot about the campuses of each school," said Fry's mother, Harriet. "Penn State's football field made Mississippi State's look like a practice field, but once you see each of these schools in person, you see that a lot of the campuses are alike. Being at Penn State, the way that town looks, would have been just like being at Starkville."

Colleges across the nation wanted BranDee Fry to enroll, and the endless stream of letters and phone calls became a neccessary evil. She had her own telephone line and things got crazy from time to time.

"I was amazed at all the money these school's had to spend on things like Fed-Ex and UPS, not to mention the pieces of regular mail," Harriet Fry said. "Here's some advice — if you have a child that's a big recruit, you need to get an answering machine."

Fry said Mississippi State backed off once she told them she wasn't interested in committing early. She had a good relationship with coaches from MSU but said they probably started looking at other players once they couldn't get a firm committment.

"I heard from them all," Fry said of State, Ole Miss and Southern. "It came down to Texas and Ole Miss. You have to eventually narrow it down and those were the two I ended up liking the most."

Fry's father Larry remembers narrowing his choices back in the early 1970s down to a short list before actually focusing in on each one's best attributes.

"Back then, I remember deciding on (Missouri, Memphis State and MSU), then pushing all the others aside," Larry Fry said. "I was able to concentrate on each of those three and really look closely at what they had to offer." BranDee Fry had been chased by the likes of Old Dominion and Penn State, two schools that had played recently in NCAA Tournaments and could showcase powerful hardwood traditions.

"I visited Old Dominion (in Virginia) and coaches at both schools saw lots of film on me," Fry said. "They both came to see me play while I was in high school, just like the in-state schools, but I decided they were too far away to consider.

"My family is here in Mississippi and I had them in mind when I came down to my final two choices of Ole Miss or Texas."

The Longhorn program hooked Fry almost immediately after she set foot on campus for a visit in February. The team was back in the NCAAs after having been one of the major contenders, along with Old Dominion, Delta State and Tennessee, when women's basketball was making its transition from AIAW status toward an existence within the realm of the NCAA.

"Texas seemed the most like our team here at Moss Point," Fry said. "They really marketed their program nicely and I really felt like I belonged. Every player was friendly and they treated me well. I am looking forward to a rewarding career there at that school."

Fry said Ole Miss assistant coach Thompson was on her trail from the start of the recruiting process but not even his advances could change her ultimate course.

"I have to hand it to Coach Thompson because he was with me from Day One," Fry said. "I really appreciate him taking the time he did. It just came down to me feeling most comfortable at Texas."

Pater said Fry's tendancy to be elusive at times was only natural for a recruit of her stature.

"Coaches will tell you that Tan White was the same way when she was coming out of Tupelo," Pater said. "Coaches can call a person once a week, and when a person gets 20 calls a day it's impossible for them to sit down and talk for 30 minutes with each coach that calls. There just isn't enough time.

"BranDee was super throughout the recruiting process and she's going where she truly feels most comfortable. We all want it to work for her and I think it probably will."

Southern Miss was behind the eight-ball from the start among Fry's in-state possibilities. She cited coaching instability as the main reason she looked past USM.

"They were never really in the running," Fry said, noting that most of the assistant coaches under USM head coach Rick Reeves had not been retained after this past season. "I went and saw basketball games there (on campus) but I knew they were going to have some changes there and I was turned off by that."

Mississippi State was a logical place for Fry to consider, if only because her dad played there. Larry Fry, now the principal at Moss Point High, said he never tried to sway his daughter.

"In all honesty, I wanted her to go to MSU since that was where her mother and I both went," Larry Fry said. "But you have to let those feelings go and allow the person to make up their own mind. It's only fair and it's going to come down to them having to be happy on a day-to-day basis wherever they decide to go. Mama and Daddy won't be there with them so they need to be comfortable in having made their own decision.

"BranDee is going to be happy in Texas, I believe, but Mississippi State and the other schools will move on without her as part of the picture. That's a good program at Mississippi State right now."

A 6-foot-3 standout who started for three seasons under Pater at MPHS, Fry is one of nine senior players who graduate this season.

"She helped establish some positive tradition here," Pater said. "The next generation of players that comes through here will only know winning. Those lofty goals of continuing the program's success are in no small way connected to the group of seniors who leave us this year."

For more Mississippi Press articles click here....

Reprinted with the permission of the Mississippi Press.

Gene's Page Top Stories