Ashley steps out of sister's shadow
OKLAHOMA CITY -- On most teams, Ashley Paris would be the focal point, the star, instead of the sidekick.
The 6-foot-3 senior forward is averaging 12.5 points and 9.6 rebounds for an Oklahoma squad bound for the Final Four. She has recorded 17 double-doubles this season and is only the fourth player in the program's history to record more than 1,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds.
But that often hasn't been enough to keep her out of the shadow of her twin, 6-4 Courtney Paris. And Ashley Paris is quite all right with letting her sibling receive most of the attention.
"I've lived in your shadow for 21 years," Ashley said to her sister while addressing the crowd on the Sooners' senior night on March 4. "But to be honest, if I had the choice, I'd live in it for 21 more."
Ashley started getting choked up then, but in a more composed moment a few weeks later, she said much the same thing.
"Obviously, Courtney is going to get most of the headlines," she said. "She overshadows most of the country. It's not just me. I don't know. I guess it's never really bothered me."
The Parises seemingly always have been a duo, from their time as high school stars while growing up in Piedmont, Calif., through their careers at Oklahoma, and while Ashley has had her moments -- she has been named the Big 12 Conference player of the week twice this season -- it's Courtney who has earned the high-profile awards.
Courtney is a four-time first-team All-American -- the first in women's basketball history -- and a three-time Big 12 player of the year. Courtney was the national player of the year as a sophomore and is a leading candidate for this season's honor. Courtney had the NCAA-record streak of 112 straight double-doubles that reporters always asked about.
Never mind that Ashley has 28 career double-doubles -- tied for fourth on Oklahoma's career list -- and also made first-team All-Big 12 this season.
"If Courtney hadn't had 9,000,621 double-doubles, everybody would be talking about all the double-doubles that Ashley has had, because her career in and of itself has been remarkable," Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said.
There is no hint of jealousy or rivalry between the siblings, who share a house in Norman. If anything, they have a special sense of pride in what the other has accomplished.
"If I want anyone to be the best player in my country, it's my sister. I want her to be successful," Ashley said.
That selflessness runs throughout the whole team, Courtney said.
"To have the spotlight or have people talking to you is just a part of your responsibility of being on the team," she said.
"But no one thinks about that. It's just something we have to do. But at the end of the day, it's about our relationships on the court, it's about our friendships. It's about playing hard and being the best we can be, and who cares about who's getting talked about or who gets the spotlight? It's about winning games and having fun."
The Parises have formed a formidable front line for the Sooners since their arrival, but that wasn't enough last season when Oklahoma lacked a consistent perimeter game. Opposing teams simply packed the inside to neutralize the twins and dared the Sooners' guards to make outside shots. Often, they didn't, and Oklahoma lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Coale knew that for the Sooners to be successful this season, Ashley would need to play more on the perimeter, to provide ample space for the Parises to work inside. Ashley bought into that idea and dropped 25 pounds in the offseason while working to develop her shot.
Both Coale and point guard Danielle Robinson said that dedication is a big reason Oklahoma (32-4) will play Louisville (33-4) in the national semifinals in St. Louis on Sunday (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET).
"It's a pride issue," Robinson said. "It's her senior year and she hasn't been satisfied with what's gone on the last three years and she wanted to make a statement. It started with her fitness level and her making a commitment coming into this year to do something special."
Plus, Ashley Paris said, her body doesn't feel worn down as the season reaches its closing stages.
"My body feels great," she said. "Most seniors have aches and pains, and I feel like a freshman in that sense. I feel like I'm able to get down the court much quicker and be much more effective in transition. I'm just more mobile and agile, and the thing is, I feel great. I feel like I can play an entire game."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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