When Jenaya Wade-Fray takes the court for Great Britain's women's basketball team in the London Games on July 28, she will become the first University of Tennessee at Chattanooga scholarship athlete to participate in the Olympics.
"Jenaya's always loved the game and put a lot of time into it, so it's neat to see," Lady Mocs coach Wes Moore said. "I mean, the opening ceremonies and all those things, that's pretty exciting stuff."
UTC graduate Dan Beery won a gold medal in rowing four years ago at the Beijing Olympics, but crew is not a varsity sport for the Mocs. Former UTC softball coach Ralph Weekly, now at Tennessee, was an assistant coach on the 1996 and 2000 U.S. teams that won gold.
Wade-Fray, a 5-foot-11 guard from St. George's, Bermuda, was a two-time All-Southern Conference player in her 2007-10 career. She had played on Great Britain's national team since 2010 but still had to go through the tryout process. After not playing in 2011 because of a knee injury, she survived a couple of rounds of cuts before making the 12-woman roster.
"I am very grateful to have been given this opportunity, and it is definitely unreal to be chosen to play in the Olympics," she wrote in an email to the Times Free Press.
In March 1980, more than eight years before Wade-Fray was born, two Lady Mocs tried out for the U.S. team at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. Guard Karen Mills and forward Denise Powers were among more than 200 participants in the tryout.
Powers and Mills competed in the open tryout, hoping to be one of the lucky seven who advanced to the final round that included the 18 invited players. They both survived some cuts.
"It was a wonderful experience," said Mills, a Cleveland native. "I made it to the final 18 of the open trials, and when they got to 12, I got cut."
The U.S. wound up boycotting the Olympics and not sending any teams to Moscow. Mills, now a successful stand-up comedian, knows the real reason why.
"I've always maintained that that was the reason Jimmy Carter boycotted the Olympics, because I didn't make it," she joked.
Powers, from Chattanooga, said she survived to about the final 50. She equated getting the invitation to try out to being nominated for an Academy Award.
"You certainly have a different sense of it when you're younger, because it's sort of part of the progression that you want to achieve," Powers said. "Now when you look back, it's a singular achievement to have even been invited. I certainly would have liked to have made it further, but to even have been able to attend was just fantastic."
Mills said doing so well at the trials had a tremendous impact on her career. She had just completed her sophomore season when she went to Colorado Springs, and the confidence she gained there spurred her on to be an All-American her final two seasons at UTC.
"I really don't know that that would have happened without that experience at the Olympic Trials," said Mills, who along with Powers is in UTC's Athletic Hall of Fame.
Mills is first on UTC's all-time assist list with 787, and Powers is fourth in points with 1,872.
Among the 12 players who did make that 1980 team was new Tennessee coach Holly Warlick, who had just finished her Lady Vols career playing for Pat Summitt. Venus Lacy, a Chattanooga native who played at Louisiana Tech, won a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics.
UTC nearly had another Olympian this year in runner Lanni Marchant, a Canadian who won numerous SoCon titles and was the league's female athlete of the year in 2007. Marchant easily met the Olympic qualifying standard of 2:37:00 in the women's marathon, but her top time of 2:31:55 -- the ninth-fastest ever run by a Canadian woman -- didn't meet Athletic Canada's standard of 2:29:55.
Despite several appeals, Marchant will not be going to London. Wade-Fary will, however, and she will be a part of history. This is the first women's basketball team from Great Britain ever to compete in the Olympics.
Contact John Frierson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mocsbeatCTFP.