Never doubt the power of Neverland

9/7/2005 - Oklahoma Sooners

Editor's note: Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale will share a diary with ESPN.com throughout the season for the fourth consecutive year.

Jan. 12, 2005

I picked up my son last night from basketball practice and held him captive at a chick flick. "Finding Neverland" had been on my list of things to do for quite some time, and unfortunately, Colton was a prisoner with no viable form of escape. Once there, he was all about the nachos and a half gallon of Gatorade; I was all about Johnny Depp and Peter Pan and the notion of a place called Neverland.

We were neither disappointed. My boy sighed heavily a few times when there was very little movement and all kinds of conversation, and he shot glances at me as if I were retarded when I sniffled and sobbed. Other than that, I think he survived unscathed.

I, however, was marked. I left the theatre grateful for Hollywood and the excuse it gives us for pausing to see what we might be missing or, in some cases, perhaps might have simply forgotten. Fairy dust is silly. Dogs don't talk. Children don't fly. And people have to grow up. Right? Oh, maybe not. My favorite ones, come to think of it, never really have.

One of the best things about coaching is the carousel of people you gather along the way. Just this past weekend we hosted Texas A&M for our Big 12 home opener. We played pretty well, won the game, and moved to 1-1 in conference play. Leah and Dionnah continued to lead in poetic fashion ... we got great bench play from (Lauren) Shoush and Beky (Preston) and Britney (Brown) ... (Erin) Higgins hit some 3s ....

But my favorite moment didn't have anything to do with the game. My Kodak of the night came right before the opening tip when I looked down to the south baseline and saw the past of our program poised to influence the future. Seated in a perfect row were Sunny Hardeman, Kate (Scott) Goldberg, Stephanie Simon, Jamie (Talbert) Wyrick, Caton Hill and Stacey Dales-Schuman. I felt old and young all at the same time. Those guys lining our court have become "grown-ups" blazing a trail of success and infinite aspiration. I watched them there laughing and talking, enjoying each other still, and I couldn't suppress the wry smile that leaked out as memories bombarded my brain. What great kids.

But that isn't what made the sight extraordinary. What made the moment a keeper was their connection with our guys on the court. It was like the early unspoken language of twins. Through inbounds plays and open-court screens, back-door cuts and block-out pockets, the guys who poured our foundation shared the game with those who are bounding from it. It was ethereal, really. Winning the game was gravy.

Big 12 play is upon us and while it signals a new phase in the 2004-05 season, some things haven't much changed. For instance, the end of pre-conference presented us with a planes, trains, and automobiles debacle like no other I have ever seen. (Well documented by Beky Preston in her December diary entry, I might add). The conference season picked right up where the northwest pre-conference saga left off. We flew to Midland to bus to Lubbock with an intermission at Logan's Road House for a football game that gave us heartburn. Trust me, the trip felt as jagged as that sentence just read. We're bussing to Waco this weekend; I can only imagine what detours lay in store.

Sideshows aside, our conference start has been OK. Ours is a tough league. It's a horse race that won't be decided by the first turn. That gives me great confidence in our odds. Twelve of the 13 players on our roster were on our two month journey last season. They know, firsthand, how it feels to climb up the hill, fall in a hole, get lost in the forest and then ultimately find the map that leads to the sun. They have lived it. They know a loss at Tech doesn't kill us and a win at home vs. A&M promises little. They know the road is long and it is not for the faint of heart.

My guys get it. And my very favorite thing about them is that they love the toughness of the task. They love the fact that it's hard to win games in this league. They wear it almost like a badge. They love the crowds we are privileged to play in front of -- even when they're not so kind. They even seem to love the duration of it all. They're in a good place -- old enough to know what it's all about and young enough to not be tired at the thought of it.

I hope I never know so much that I'm completely grown up. Not only is it less fun there, I think it's also harder than it has to be. Life seems to always be tough enough without our adding cynicism to the equation. My daughter vehemently endorses Santa; she says he's real if you believe him to be. And I am so with her.

I like fairy dust. I like the multiple personalities of Stacey Dales' imaginary characters and the contorted facial expressions of Caton Hill. I like the inside jokes and practical jokes and uncontrolled laughter even when it's not entirely appropriate. And I love the possibilities that lie in a place like that. Sometimes I pause, when Hollywood or a perfectly round moon or a spring-like day in the middle of winter beckons me, and I think of the incredible people basketball has introduced me to. In some form or another, all of my favorite people on this planet I either met through or by the grace of this game that I love. And the premise of a place where you create your own reality lies at the heart of where they all live. That's what binds us together.

When Colt and I got home from the movie, we moved directly into the 2005 Nerf 1 vs. 1 basketball championship held just off our entryway on the coat closet door. As he backed me down, repeatedly referring to me in his not-too lousy British accent as James Barrie's "Petah," his rhetoric revealed residue of a chick flick gone good.

"He isn't JUST a dog," he said. "A diamond isn't JUST a rock! That's like saying, He can't climb that mountain, he's JUST a man! Just! And this isn't JUST a dunk!" he exclaimed, as he slammed one in my eye, scarring the door for the 1,000th time.

Neverland exists; I am certain of it. So certain, in fact, that I think I'll lock the kid's windows tonight, JUST in case.

For more on coach Coale and the Sooners, visit Oklahoma's official athletic site.