PHOENIX, Arizona, November 14. TODAY marked the first time college coaches could speak publicly about the high school seniors they secured for next fall, and UC-Berkeley women's head coach Teri McKeever took advantage of that with a press conference.
Signing Missy Franklin to a letter of intent for two years of collegiate competition was naturally the top subject of discussion, and McKeever spoke of Franklin's impact on the team and this year's recruiting class as a whole.
On managing Missy's needs in a college setting:
I think that with her credentials coming in and her skill set and her future aspirations that it's going to bring an exciting added dimension. The fact that I've had the honor of walking through some of this with various athletes … everyone's different because the athlete's different. But I think I have and I'm sure I will continue to draw upon those past experiences, and in conversations with Bob with handling Michael, with Gregg with Ryan.
On Missy's previous communication with McKeever about plans to attend Cal:
When she told me, she tricked me into thinking she was going somewhere else, so my heart sank for about 30 seconds before she cleared it up, so that was good. I've had the pleasure of working with her, and I did ask her to call me before the Olympics, and I said there's nothing more that I would like than to be your coach as we move forward, but I don't want to walk through this experience and feel like this is a dress rehearsal or an audition. I'm going to work and communicate as the head women's coach at the Olympics and you'll have an idea of what I'm like, and when it's time we'll talk about Cal. I think when she came on her visit, one of the things that really stood out to me was (that) her impression of Cal was myself or Dana or Natalie or Caitlin or Nathan. It's people. She had never seen the campus. She'd never walked on campus. She'd never met the support staff which is so amazing here. She could like all of us, but if she wasn't comfortable in this environment, it was never going to work. It was important to get her here, and her family here, and spend some time to see if she could see herself being a student.
On Franklin's training and place on the women's team:
Just like everyone else, like Rachel Bootsma or Caitlin or Elizabeth Pelton. I think part of what I think Missy wants and what we've talked about is she wants to be part of a team, and being part of a team means training with the team and traveling with the team and doing what the team does. I don't think that her focusing on college swimming for a while in short course yards in any way is going to take away from her national and international aspirations in any ways. It's been my experience with other athletes that it can help. The amount of racing, the quality of racing, the emphasis on some of the subtleties of turns and starts. Those are some of the areas that Missy has said she knows she can continue to improve on, and hopefully we can help her do that.
Ranking the current recruiting class:
The one that's here right now is pretty darn good. The thing that's exciting is backing up the freshman class that we have with another strong class. That's been something that Kristen and I have put a lot of effort and intention and purposefulness to back that up. When you can string a couple of great classes together, that's when you can do some amazing things. Missy is obviously a dimension in herself, but I think what Kristen Vredeveld is going to bring in a sprinting capacity is huge to a college program, and Celina Li is going to fill in with some places where we're having graduation, and we're going to need to be shored. Same thing with Taylor Young in the breaststroke and Abby Spears as a freestyler. I've always said if you're going to collect swimmers, you want to collect freestylers. And Hayden diving-wise, that's a piece of our program where Todd M is doing a great job. We hope to have more athletes representing at Cal at nationals and scoring and helping us contribute to an overall team success.
On what three individual events Franklin might swim at the NCAA championships:
I can honestly say I've never had a conversation with her about that. You'd have to look at our current team, and we don't want to wipe each other out of spaces. If you've got four people in the final of the 100 back, points are points. I have seen on websites someone has my whole lineup for me, so if I get desperate, I can go back and look at that. Even last weekend when we were getting ready to race with Texas and Wisconsin, I will admit there was a part of me that was fantasizing about having Missy and Kristen and Celina, being able to add them into a lineup. What an amazing opportunity that's going to be for us, to have people that are multi-faceted in their talents. We're going to be able to come at people in a lot of different ways. I think that's how a young lady has a successful career. I don't want Missy to come and swim the 100 and 200 back, 100 and 200 free for the next two years and then do that nationally. I think it would be great to work on her breaststroke and have her swim some fly, and just develop as an overall swimmer.
On Franklin's broader impact for Cal:
I think that's going to be very exciting. What Michael has started, and Ryan and Natalie and the Team USA's success in the Olympics particularly with swimming, and starting off the last couple of Games in such a big way has really broadened the general public's opinion of swimming and the type of athlete and type of stories. Obviously, Missy did a wonderful job of being an ambassador for our sport and herself more importantly. I'm sure there's going to be people that will want to see her swim. How many times do you get to see someone of that caliber compete in person? When Natalie was here, and I've heard people say when Mary T. Meagher and Matt Biondi were going to school here at the same time, that there'd be a lot of people coming in and checking it out, and I think that's awesome. I'm sure it's going to be challenging for us as an institution, but it's exciting at the same time.
What she learned about Franklin at the Olympics:
I think it goes back to the first time I had to serve on a national team with her was in December (2009 at the Duel in the Pool), and then at Pan Pacs and then in Shanghai and then in London. I've had the opportunity from afar to watch her mature to the young lady that she is now, and just seeing that and seeing her interact with her teammates and interact with her coaches, and listening to what is important to her. That was the first question I asked her when I went to go see them after the Olympics. “You're giving up a lot. What do you want this to look like?” And I wanted to get really clear on what she wanted to see and that I was able to give that to her. I think that the things that she communicated she wanted, those are the same values that are important to me and the women in our program and this institution. Being broad-based, having a wonderful educational experience with an athletic experience and not having to compromise one for the other. We talk about world-class academics, world-class athletics. It might sound kind of cheesy, but it's possible, and she's seen other people have that, and I think that helps reassure her and her family that she can have the same thing.
On this recruiting class' first competition as Golden Bears:
Swimming is not like football or basketball. Teri gets the calendar out in April and start doing things. Our first meet typically has been a little pentathlon — 100s of every stroke, 100 IM — down at Cal-Poly. And then that's where we introduce our ocean swimming. Ironically, (Franklin) has a cousin that goes to Cal-Poly, so she's said her cousin can see her swim her first college meet.
Analyzing recruiting process for Franklin:
The biggest adjustment was that we did it much earlier than I typically bring recruits in because I wanted to capitalize on the stadium opening and a buzz around campus. The parents come as we do a junior day in April, and Missy wasn't able to do that, so we invited Dick and D.A. Franklin to come out, and we also invited Sandy and Roger Vredeveld came as well with Kristen. We had a smaller group of women that we knew we were very serious about. Celina was on that trip. I think the hardest part was, because of the buzz around the Olympics, keeping everyone around here normal. They were very excited to see her.
On her recruiting plans for this season:
Our net wasn't as wide as it has been, because with one senior, you can do the math. There weren't quite as many scholarships available, and I didn't need that many. I was looking for the right fit and people that can help us. We obviously had some other very talented women in here: Lia Neal, Chelsea Chenault. You know you're going to bring all these people in, and Berkeley is not going to be the right campus. I'm not going to be the right coach. The culture's not going to be right. When good things started happening for Teri in this program, I started realizing it was about finding women that wanted to be at Berkeley, that wanted to be a part of our program, and not so much about trying to convince someone that this was right. I felt like those three in particular in our recruiting process, personally I felt the most confident that it was the right fit for me. Those are three young ladies that I'm really going to enjoy working with, and I know for me, as I've gotten older, that's become a bigger factor in it, too. I want to have a good time, just like they do. I want to be around people that want to be challenged, that want to be coached and want to be in partnership and want to be part of a team. I think Kristen and I have gone more in-depth of figuring that out, getting good at what questions we're asking, what subtle things are we looking at to see if the young lady will be happy here, so that they'll do well in school and hopefully they'll swim fast.
Thoughts on Franklin's swimming “ceiling”:
I don't know, because I've never really had the chance to work with her on a day-to-day basis. Obviously, she's very talented. She's done some amazing things. I'm impressed with her character and her drive and her commitment and her perspective of the sport. It's important but it's not who she is. Those are the type of women I want to work with, that have some perspective of where this falls in everything. Her decision to say “Hey, I want to be a part of a team” and not do whatever at 17 speaks to what is important to her. She knows what's important to her and she's willing to make that decision for her and her family and not worry about what other people think. From a performance perspective, I don't have a really great sense of that. When I look at her swim, are there some things that I go, “Hmm. I wonder if this was tweaked, would this be better or if that was tweaked, would that be better?” Of course, and that will be what keeps Teri motivated for the next four, six, eight years that we'll get to play that game every day.
On tutoring high school students on decision to become professional or swim in college:
I'm completely biased. I feel very, very strongly that going to a university, living in the dorm, getting an education and all those things are incredibly important, and I don't think that you have to compromise your Olympic dreams or your international dreams. Because someone doesn't want to do that doesn't make them wrong, but I think there are bigger things than winning Olympic medals that should be taken into the factor of what is best for that person as it grows up. If anyone asked me I would give someone opinion, but I don't think it's appropriate for me to go to the next phenom and say this is what I think you ought to do. I think people do that in USA Swimming, and I don't think that's appropriate. If someone ask for someone's advice, that's one thing, but I don't think giving it unsolicited is inappropriate.
On Franklin's decision to not go pro:
I would argue on the other hand to marketing people that if you can't have something, that you pay more for it later. I'm sure she's giving up lots of money. What's lots of money? I don't know, because I've been doing this long enough to hear rumors of what different people's contracts were, and I saw what the contracts were, and they were nowhere near to what people said they were making. So, does Missy Franklin have the ability to make millions? Yes. I think she does. I think if she identifies herself with a university and earns a degree and broadens her 17-year-old person, she's going to be more marketable and going to be able to make a bigger difference in the world. And that's what I told her. I said to her that if you do this right, you're going to be able to pick your cause and market yourself and make a difference. Swimming is a vehicle to make a difference in the world, no matter how you want to do that. I think that's a young lady that's very committed to charity work and different causes, and I think it's going to be awesome that she's going to have two years to really have some space to figure out is important to her and where does she want to make a difference and how does Missy want to project herself beyond swimming, beyond the Olympics. I'm excited to be a part of that, whatever role she wants me to be, whether it be nothing or very involved. I understand in taking on someone of this caliber that you're taking on more than her day-to-day training. I'm honored that they feel that I'm the right person to do that.