She’s her mom’s best medicine.
While Tyler Frierson, the 6-foot-4 sophomore center of the Wright State women’s basketball team, has been getting ready for the Raiders’ NCAA Tournament opener against Texas A & M, Friday in College Station Texas, her mom, Andrea, is back home in Long Beach, California, proudly following her daughter while diligently waiting on a kidney transplant list.
In the meantime, that means dialysis sessions three times a week, as well as daily insulin shots for the diabetes that initially caused the kidney failure.
“The first time she had an episode I was in middle school,” Tyler said quietly as she sat in the Setzer Pavilion following practice.
She has a special bond with her mother. She’s an only child and said her mom is “my best friend.”
“It was crazy. I remember we were at home and I went back to her room. She was lying there watching TV and I asked if she was OK. She said she was, but all of a sudden her eyes rolled back. I was like, ‘Mom!… Mom! …What’s wrong?‘
“I called 9-1-1 and then I called my aunt. She lives around the corner and she ran over. It was really scary. They took her in the ambulance and she was really, really sick.”
Over the years there have been other episodes and ambulance trips, but Tyler has learned better what to expect: “I know most of Mom’s medications now. I kind of know what to do.”
Although Andrea and her 19-year-old daughter now are separated by nearly 2,200 miles, they fortify their connection with regular phone calls, FaceTiming, text messages and other forms of social media.
“I’m that mom who calls no more than 3 or 4 times….a day,” Andrea said with perfect timing and a laugh.
Tyler thought they speak 4 or 5 times daily: “The smallest thing can happen and I’m freakin’ out, so I’ll call and she’s like, ‘OK, what’s the matter?’
“Other times I might be worrying how she’s doing, so I’ll call and say, ‘Mom, are you OK? I can pack up and come home if you need me.’
“And she’ll say, ‘You’re staying right there. Don’t worry about me. I’m fine.’”
Andrea said except for the dialysis, her life is otherwise uninterrupted. But she did admit she doesn’t always share everything with her daughter:
“I’m not going to make all my issues, her issues. She has to live her life. I tell her, ‘You keep going. I’ll be fine and, if not, you’re still going to alright, Nothing is going to hold you back.’
“And nothing makes me feel better than watching her grow now and accomplish so much. I’m a very proud mom at this moment.”
And Andrea was never prouder than last Tuesday when Wright State earned only its second NCAA Tournament bid by pushing aside Green Bay, its longtime nemesis, 55-52, in the championship game of the Horizon League Tournament in Detroit.
Tyler came up especially big with 13 rebounds, six points and two blocked shots, the last of which helped save the day.
The Raiders had a tenuous 51-49 lead with 34 seconds left, but Green Bay’s 6-foot-1 Carly Mohns had managed to receive the ball down on the block while pinning her WSU defender, 5-foot-7 guard Michal Miller, behind her.
“I was on the other block guarding the post player, but I knew that girl was gonna try to score,” Tyler said. “And I was yelling over, ‘I got you Michal! I got you!’
“The two of us trapped her and when she tried to go up, I was already there with my hands up and I was like ‘You are NOT gonna make this shot!’”
Tyler smothered the attempt, grabbed the ball and put one of the exclamation points on the WSU victory.
From California to Ohio
The biggest of the Raiders began as the smallest.
Born premature, Tyler weighed just 3 pounds, 6 ounces at birth her mom said and spent her first month in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit.
She began to grow at three years old and by fifth grade was the tallest in her class.
She didn’t start playing basketball until eighth grade, but rather than immerse herself over the summers in a full slate of AAU games and travel, she often was involved in activities — camping, going to the mountains, barbecues — with her close-knit family.
At Milikan High School in Long Beach, she did become a basketball standout, but also made a name for herself as president of the honors classes and the Homecoming Queen.
At the pageant, she read a Maya Angelou poem – “Still I Rise” – for her performance and a long peach dress for formal wear competition.
“When she added heels,” her mom laughed, “she looked seven feet tall!”
Meanwhile, back at Wright State, coach Katrina Merriweather contacted a scouting service to find “the biggest post player out there who still wasn’t signed.”
She heard about Tyler, made some calls, then reached out to her.
Tyler remembers the moment: “I got this text: ‘Hi, I’m Katrina Merriweather, the head coach at Wright State University.’
“I was like, ‘Wright State?’ I called my mom and said ‘Have you ever heard of this school?’
“She said ,’No,’ so I googled it and saw it was in Ohio and I was like …’Aaah, nope.’
“But Trina asked when we played next and I said, ‘Well, tomorrow… I know you’re in Ohio, but if you want to come… ‘
“I never expected her, but next day there she was. After the game I talked to my high school coach and she said, ‘She seems really cool.’
“After that Trina and I talked here and there. She came to another game and went to dinner with my family and really showed she cared.”
Although she was being recruited by Long Beach State, Cal State Seaside, Cal State Northridge, San Francisco and Weber State, Tyler said she wanted to see another part of the county and agreed to visit WSU. She brought her mom.
“It was a real eye opener,” Andrea said. “I could tell the way she was interacting with Trina and the coaches that she really felt comfortable with them. She really took a liking to the school and I said. ‘You know, she’s going to choose Wright State.’”
Part of ‘three-headed monster’
Initially, Merriweather never thought Tyler would come all the way to Wright State, but when she signed, the coach made a promise: She’d bring her back home sometime and schedule a Raiders game in California.
And so WSU opened this season with a West Coast trip that included a game at CSU Bakersfield and one at UNLV.
The team flew to Los Angeles and spent a day in Tyler’s surroundings.
They practiced at her high school where the coaches there threw a surprise picnic.
“We didn’t know they were going to do that,” Andrea said. ”All the teachers were there and the basketball team, too, and they had signs – ‘Welcome Back Tyler.’ It was really amazing.”
“She showed off our kids, too,” Merriweather added. “It was a phenomenal trip.”
Tyler said her WSU teammates wanted to see some sights, so she brought them to the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, the Wax Museum and Venice Beach.
In the opener at a CSU Bakersfield – 112 miles north of L.A. – Tyler put on a show, scoring 20 points and grabbing 15 rebounds in the two-point loss.
This season she had a few other memorable games: 16 points and 14 rebounds in one game against Cleveland State, 14 and 10 in another; against the Vikings; 12 points versus Marist and 13 rebounds against Detroit Mercy.
She’s second on the team in rebounds (7.3 per game) and along with Symone Simmons (10) has made WSU the No. 2 rebounding team in the nation.
Tyler leads the Raiders in field goal percentage and blocked shots and is sixth in scoring (6.7)
Although she starts, she often is spelled by 6-foot-1 Imani Partlow, a grad transfer from Xavier, and 6-1 junior Teneshia Dixon from Midland C.C.
“We’re the three-headed monster,” Tyler joked.
Their inside presence along with a trio of four-year veterans, the addition of Miller, a transfer who began her career at Arizona, freshman standout Angel Baker and the rest of the 11-deep squad has lifted the Raiders to their first-ever outright Horizon League regular season crown, a 27-6 record, the best mark in school history and now a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
“None of my friends back home knew where I was going,” Tyler said. “They just didn’t know Wright State.”
She started to laugh:
“They definitely know now!”