Ashley Paris making name for herself
It was Oklahoma's season debut. On national TV. And as expected, Courtney Paris was dominating the paint.
The Sooners sophomore's quickness and decision-making skills were as solid as ever.
But then something happened. The camera cut to Oklahoma's bench -- where Paris was sitting. Which meant Courtney's identical twin, Ashley Paris, was the one doing the damage on the court.
It figures, I remember thinking. Ashley played in Courtney's shadow all of last season -- and probably for years before that. It's understandable. Courtney Paris annihilated the record books as a freshman last year, setting more than three dozen school, Big 12 or Division I records en route to becoming the first woman in NCAA history to amass at least 700 points, 500 rebounds and 100 blocks in a season.
But somewhere along the line -- at least on a national level -- Ashley Paris' solid freshman campaign got lost in the shuffle. She started just eight games last season, but Ashley -- who wears No. 5 (her sis is No. 3) and at 6-foot-3, is just shorter than 6-4 Courtney -- averaged almost six points and 6.7 rebounds, shooting 47 percent from the field.
"Because of Courtney's exclamation point, people forgot what a good freshman year Ashley had," Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said.
"Ashley might be the second-best post in the conference and might be a top post in the country, but everybody's always comparing her to what Courtney does."
Ashley says she is used to the comparisons, and in fact welcomes them.
"It's the highest compliment," she said. "It never bothers me. I'm just so proud of my sister."
And Ashley is the first to acknowledge their differences. Courtney's outgoing, Ashley's introspective. Courtney's the life of the party. Ashley is just at the party.
"Courtney has the same personality on and off the court -- she's very dynamic," Ashley Paris said. "Me? I'm very passive and just laid back."
But right now, Ashley's improvement should be as prominently discussed as Courtney's dominance. In that 105-71 win over then-No. 20 DePaul on Nov. 12, Ashley hit 7 of 9 attempts and scored a career-high 16 points. She also added five rebounds (four offensive) and four assists. Through four games, Ashley has almost doubled her scoring average from a year ago to 11.5 points, is shooting a team-high 66.7 percent (22-for-33) from the field and also grabbing 5.8 rebounds.
Paris attributes the more polished game to a busy offseason -- though she admits she had a hard time identifying exactly where to start.
"I knew I had to work on my mistakes, but I didn't know how to fix them, even though I was watching them on film," she said. "It was a matter of seeing it, getting into the gym and applying it."
In individual training sessions and group workouts, Paris focused on the high post, working on her footwork and stepping out on the perimeter, getting her feet into the right position, jumping to the ball and making quick stops. This season, it has translated into better agility and more creativity on the block -- and more than anything, improved confidence.
"Her greatest transformation this year has been mental," Coale said. "She's more comfortable, more confident, playing with a greater assertion.
"I'm excited about this team, what they can do. This team is really fun. Of course, winning a title is very important, and it's in the back of people's minds, but it's very subtle talk. It's not like everyday conversation." No, that usually revolves around Courtney and all of her accomplishments -- though Ashley's hoping to come out on top in one department. The twins just got their driver's licenses earlier this year, and currently are sharing the 2006 Volkswagen Jetta their father, Bubba Paris, a former All-Pro lineman for the San Francisco 49ers, purchased for them in the spring.
"Whoever has the best grades, he's going to buy a new car," said Ashley Paris, a communications major. "I'm highly motivated."Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.
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