Archdeacon: Bond with ailing mom helps Wright State center thrive

She has learned the lessons of her mother well and Monday’s Horizon League Tournament semifinal in Indianapolis again will offer proof.

Just as she he does before every game and practice, Tyler Frierson will show up 90 minutes before the rest of her Wright State teammates and head straight to the training quarters.

That’s where the Raiders staff – tending to her the way a pit crew works on a race car – will help turn a sore-kneed, 21-year-old into the All Horizon League center and first team defender that she is.

While Frierson said she has a bipartite patella in her right knee – a congenital condition where the patella fails to fuse and the wear and tear of a basketball season makes it painful this time of year – she downplayed it the other day.

“My quads are a little tight and I’ve got a knee problem, so I get some cupping done before practice,” she said of the ages-old therapy that involves placing small, heated glass caps on an area to increase blood flow and reduce pain. While it leaves circular bruises, it “works like magic,” she said.

Then she said she gets her knee “scraped,” a technique similar to a boxing cutman using a metal, enswell to press away swelling and reduce pain.

After that comes an ice bath, maybe a massage and finally a big white brace is strapped to her knee.

From there, Coach Trina Merriweather takes over, playing the 6-foot-4 veteran in three minute or so spurts throughout the game.

Although the biggest player on a team that plays a fast-paced, guard-dribble offense, Frierson hasn’t just kept up, she’s made her mark, averaging a team-leading 8.3 rebounds and 8.2 points a game going into the 16-7, top-seeded Raiders matchup with No. 6 Cleveland State.

“She’s been a trouper for us,” said the Raiders associate head coach Tennille Adams. “She definitely plays through things. She’s been uber tough that way.”

Merriweather agreed:

“No matter what’s going on in her life – either at home with her mom or here on the court – she’s like ‘I’ll be OK. …I’m OK!’”

For years Tyler has heard her mom – Andrea Frierson, who raised her only child as a single-parent back in Long Beach, Calif. – say exactly the same thing when faced with far greater challenges.

Andrea is coping with diabetes and the daily insulin shots that requires. Tyler said she’s also dealing with lymphedema, a swelling of arms or legs caused by a lymphatic system blockage often linked to medications taken for another issue.

For several years now Andrea’s kidneys have been failing. She’s undergoes dialysis and has been on the transplant list for four.

All that was about to change last August, Andrea said, when she was supposed to have a kidney transplant. But by then the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning its surge in Southern California and hospitals were overwhelmed.

“The hospital I was going to be at canceled a lot of procedures, except those involving life and death situations,” Andrea said. “I was still healthy enough that they could put it off, so now they’ll consider it again in three months.”

She stayed on the transplant list, continued with her three-times-a-week dialysis and, as always, has refused to let her condition curtail her life.

Sometimes, though, that has not been easy,

“There have been some scary times,” Tyler said. “When I was growing up, it was just the two of us. We lived by ourselves and when I was maybe in the eighth grade, I knew she wasn’t feeling well. I remember going back to her room and trying to talk to her and her eyes rolled back in her head.

“I was saying, ‘Mom, Mom, what’s wrong?’ She wasn’t responding and I was freaking out and I called 9-1-1 and then my aunt who lived around the corner. They rushed her to the hospital and that’s when we found out she had kidney failure.”

There have been some other incidents since, through last fall her mom was doing well and in December she began preparing for one of her daughter’s twice-a-year visits from Wright State.

That’s when potential disaster struck.

“One of my best friends came over to help me decorate for the holidays and she was coughing,” Andrea said. “I was like, ‘You’re coughing? What’s that?’

“She said, ‘Oh no!..No!…no! It’s just my allergies.”

“But right after that I ended up with the coronavirus. I lost my sense of taste and smell and I had body aches and some breathing problems. Thank God it didn’t take me all the way down with the underlying conditions I have.”

Andrea’s sister, Donna Jackson, said the entire family “was really frightened when she came down with it. All of us were scared, but she stayed strong.”

Like several of her teammates, Tyler had tested positive for COVID in October. But she was young and an athlete and wasn’t threatened like her mom was.

Tyler and her mom have a special bond. Each calls the other her “best friend.”

Tyler was excited to come home for Christmas, but then she wasn’t permitted to visit her mom. And just two weeks ago her mom was not allowed to make a trip to Ohio for a small family get together after her daughter’s Senior Day game.

Through it all Tyler was never told all the details in her mom’s COVID battle.

“You would never think Andrea has any health issues because she doesn’t let them bring her down,” Donna said. “And she would never let Tyler know if she’s not feeling well. That’s the type person she is. She doesn’t want to distract from whatever her daughter has to do in college.”

Andrea explained that to me the first time I talked to her a couple of years ago:

“I want her to go be her own person. She has to live HER life. I don’t want my issues to become her issues.”

She touched on that again the other day:

“That’s why I didn’t mind her going off to Wright State. She needed to be on her own, just to know if ever I’m not here, she knows she can take care of herself and make good decisions on her own.”

Family support

Andrea started to laugh as she went back to the beginning of their mother-daughter story:

“I didn’t even know I was pregnant until I was eight months. I didn’t know my body then. My stomach hadn’t gotten big, nothing.”

As Tyler tells the story: “She felt something move in her stomach and thought it was gas.”

A couple of weeks later she gave birth.

“Tyler was premature,” Andrea said. “She was just 2 pounds and 3 ounces.”

Realizing she was going to raise her daughter without the help of the baby’s father, she said she had some moments of panic: “I was like, ‘How am I ever going to do this?’”

But she had the support of her big, close-knit and loving family.

The atmosphere was nurturing for Tyler, who went from the tiniest of babies to the tallest child in her fifth grade class. And by high school, she was achieving on all fronts.

At Millikan High School in Long Beach, she was the Homecoming Queen, the class president twice and was named the school’s female athlete of the year as a senior.

Although she was recruited by schools like Long Beach State, Cal State Monterey Bay, Cal State Northridge, San Francisco and Weber State, she decided she might like to see another part of the country.

But when she got a call from Merriweather she was mystified.

“In my mind I was thinking, ‘I have no clue where this school is,’” she admitted. “When she told me Ohio, I was thinking ‘Aaah, no I’m not going to Ohio!’”

Swayed by Merriweather, she came with her mom on a visit and loved it.

Andrea did, too: “I felt she needed a family situation and that’s what Wright State had.”

Tyler agreed: “Trina is like your mom away from your mom and all the coaches care about you more than you just being an athlete. They make sure your school is good, your personal life is good.”

As she connected here, she said her bond with her mother – even though they are separated by 2,200 miles and three time zones – has strengthened, too. They stay in constant touch through social media and by phone.

“I call her every morning about 9:30 her time and then I call her right after our practice and tell her what went on,” Tyler said. “And I love to cook, so when I’m making dinner I might FaceTime her (or her aunt) just to make sure I know what I’m doing. And then I’ll call her again right before I go to bed.

“A lot of times, hers is the first voice I hear in the morning and the last one I hear at night.”

‘There always there for me’

In between Mom’s wake-up call and Tyler’s bedtime conversation, a lot goes on.

For Tyler, there’s basketball – she’s played 108 games for the Raiders and has 723 career rebounds, 678 points and 101 blocked shots – and there are classes and then there are Tuesdays at Linh’s Bistro with Coach Adams.

“Over the years, my relationship with Ty has developed,” Adams said. “I’ve earned her trust and respect and that’s important to me because it allows me to coach her a little tougher.

“We spend a lot of time talking on the sidelines. There are times she’s frustrated with her play and times I need to get after her and motivate her. But then I can always say: ‘You know I love you, right? I just want you to be the best version of yourself.’

“Over the years we’ve laughed, she’s cried and it’s gotten to the point where we go to lunch now every Tuesday.

“She loves pho (pronounced faa) and we tried a couple of places and found one – Linh’s Bistro (in the Page Manor Shopping Center) – that we really like.”

Pho is a savory Vietnamese soup with rice noodles, broth, herbs, meat and special seasonings. It’s considered Vietnam’s national dish.

“I ate it in California and Coach T and I are the only two who like to go out and try different foods,” Tyler said.

“We order our pho extra spicy and we just sit and talk,” Adams said.

“I joke with her and Tank (the affectionate nickname of 6-2 sophomore Shamarre Hale) that if had daughters, they’d probably be like them in height and personality. I see some of myself in them.”

She feels a special connection with Tyler.

“Her mom and her family did a wonderful job on how to be good to people and to know right from wrong. That way, when you have freedom to make a decision, you do the right thing.

“I think Tyler’s mom instilled in her: ‘Go get an education and kick butt…and Oh, don’t worry. Mom’s gonna be alright.’

“I think Ty is absolutely good medicine for her mom because she checks all the right boxes.”

Yet, with all that said, Adams admitted Merriweather has a running joke when it comes to Tyler and her trips home each year:

“Every time Ty goes out there for Christmas, Trina says she’s surprised she ever comes back. I mean how could you not want to stay in sunny Southern California rather than coming back to cold and dreary Ohio in December? I mean, what brings her back?”

Just as she learned the lessons of her mom, Tyler Frierson said she’s learned the lessons of Wright State:

“I can’t see me playing at any other place. This team, these coaches, they’re always there for me.”

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