The best and worst part of coaching
Updated: March 11, 2004, 2:18 PM ET
Editor's note: Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale has shared a diary with ESPN.com throughout the season for the third consecutive year.March 2004
I love Sheryl Crow. I love her raspy voiced lyrics that say the truth poetically. I love that she looks like she's 25, although she's 42. I love the fact that Lance Armstrong is teaching her to bike and she is teaching him to play guitar. And I'm not sure what that has to do with anything, except that I was thinking about her when I sat down to write this. Probably because my computer sits in a spot where I am bathed in sunlight when I type, and that in and of itself means "Soak up the Sun" is bouncing in my mind. But maybe a little, too, because Crow has a maverick way about her. And what basketball team doesn't need a little maverick in them about this time every year? After skidding in January, taking a week off, and rolling in February, our team sits on the cusp of what might be. The regular season is over and Senior Night is in the books. Caton Hill and Maria Villarroel have one postseason left in their basketball careers. It seems like only yesterday we were in Dallas gathering for Big 12 media day. I remember vividly the anticipation, the energy of what might happen, what could be. And here we are looking March right in the eye and though, as they say in southern Oklahoma, lots of water has flowed under the bridge, I am just as excited, just as hopeful, just as energized now as I was then. I have a few more knots in my shoulders. And a few more grey hairs. But I really like my team (STILL!). And I love the way the NCAA format leaves the windows wedged open for those who have put themselves in a position to crawl through.
Ours has been an eventful season thus far. We've had moments of brilliance. We've had spans of ignorance. We've been impossible to guard and we've been the keystone cops. We have guarded the heck out of people and we've been run through like a cheap paper towel. I suppose such is the track record of the young. But the one consistency has been our resilience. Perhaps that was borne last season and has been passed on to our true freshmen like an inoculation. Or maybe it's a result of bull-headed, confident leaders. Or maybe it's partly just the stuff our particular kids are made of. Whatever the reason, we seem to be responders: guys who just keep showing up intent on not being one of the millions who got tired and quit fighting just before they won. Our "big 3" have been big. It's no secret that when Caton, Maria, and Di (Dionnah Jackson) have played well, we have won. Those three are a tough combination to thwart. Unfortunately, the road has been a bit rocky for our two seniors. Their determination, however, has been admirable. Not once during the tough times did Maria or Caton blame, whine or run. They just kept attaching themselves to their belief in our team and the great glowing goal of possibility. The two of them are very different players and very different leaders. Maria grew up in Margarita Venezuela; Caton grew up in Lansing, Kansas. Maria has a 29-inch vertical; Caton, well, she really just can't jump very high. Maria laughs when Caton is funny; Caton laughs when Maria laps her. Caton has been at Oklahoma for forever and a day; Maria has been here for two short years. They both will leave a void when they're gone. Teams always face the task of re-loading after seniors go. You get the points and rebounds and assists fairly easily. You miss the person for a long, long time. It is simultaneously the best and the worst part of coaching: adding people to your family and then having to let them go. I spoke to Sunny Hardeman -- a kid I coached for seven years, three in high school and and four in college! -- last week. I hadn't seen her since before Christmas (she lives here in Norman!) and she hadn't called, so I chastised her. I know she has a mother already, but I'm in the mix there, too, whether she likes it or not. I received an e-mail last week from Miranda Stacy Burcham, a former player who is now somebody's mother! It made me feel like it was 10 p.m. and I knew where all my children were. Steph Simon stopped by last week and visited for a bit, and when she left I felt better than I had in days. Stacey Dales e-mails me with regularity and I laugh out loud as I type back in turbo speed. When you know someone the way you get to know them when you coach them for four (or five or seven!) years, you don't have to talk for hours to catch up (though obviously it's fun when you can). Sometimes it's just a hug or a wave across the gym or a note or a voice mail. But family sticks. Phylesha Whaley will always be Oklahoma and Oklahoma will always be Phylesha Whaley. She graduated and left here four years ago (I'm getting so old!!!) and goodbye was really hard. It always is. It was with Sunny and Miranda and Steph and Stace, and it will be with Caton and Maria. But I take refuge in the knowledge that former players and teammates leave some of themselves with you. And no matter where they go, they are never very far away. For more on coach Coale and the Sooners, visit Oklahoma's official athletic site.
APSherri Coale, with LaNeishea Caufield, led OU to the best Big 12 season in history in 2001-02.