Nothing beats Norman or the Big 12
Editor's note: Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale will share a diary with ESPN.com throughout the season for the fifth consecutive year. Coale has a master's degree in education and was a high school English teacher from 1989-96.March 17, 2006 From January to March every year we make the rounds. Some people go to Palm Springs for the winter others prefer Palm Beach we go to Nebraska. And Lubbock, and Waco and Stillwater. And I'm not complaining! In a strange sort of college rah -ah way you learn to love the familiarity of it all.
As this Big 12 season wound down, marking the close of the 10th anniversary of the Big 12 conference, I thought about what I look forward to and sometimes what I don't, as we travel in and out and around the seven states we fondly refer to as God's country. So, here's my take on life on the road in this league:
Best Security Guard Escort: Sgt. Peoples at the University of Texas!
Sgt. Peoples had his hands full, first of all, escorting anyone from Oklahoma into the Drum! I have had some security escorts who stay three steps behind and do their best not to smile, or God forbid engage in conversation. I have had some who are kind but very detached and "professional." Sgt. Peoples was awesome! He reached out, offered a handshake, smiled from ear to ear and said, "Unfortunately my dear, I am your shadow all night. So don't worry about moving too fast or going to far -- I'm in great shape, I can keep up."
He had me at hello. We laughed on our circuitous path to the playing court and I think we even laughed trekking back at halftime. (It wasn't a very pretty game, as I recall, so the traveling conversation was a real highlight!) Truth be known, Sgt. Peoples has some Oklahoma blood in him (hope that doesn',t cost him his spot!) as his nephew, Will Peoples was a wide receiver for our Sooners from 2001-2004. Peoples said he lives in Austin and he loves the 'Horns, but it was easy to tell, in a pinch he'd bleed crimson every time.
Best Postgame Meal: Oklahoma State!
Most everywhere we go we have cold sandwiches, a package full of air with a few potato chips sprinkled around, and a cold cookie. After a while all the sandwiches taste exactly like the sacks they come in and the cookies are saved for future Frisbee contests. But when you go to Stillwater, you get chicken! Hot, breaded chicken fingers, "smashed" potatoes and gravy, and a biscuit you can taste the salt in! It really doesn't get much better than that.
Best Shopping: Hands down -- Austin
It goes like this: land in Austin, check into the hotel, take a cab to the Arboretum.
Best Visiting Locker Facility: From worst to first, this one goes to Missouri!
At the old Hearnes Center, we used to dress in Quin Snyder's locker room. Not his team's locker room, but his locker room. I bet we weren't the only ones disillusioned with that scenario. It was crazy -- I would write the game plan out on the little court board I use at timeouts while my team sat, literally, on top of one another on the floor. I have to give it up to the Tiger brass, though; the new place is a palace. The chairs are comfortable, the dry erase board erases, the toilets flush, the coaches have a separate space, and no one has to dress in a shower. It's everything you need and then some. When they did it over, they did it right.
Best Table Crew: Baylor
They were engaging, pleasant and as confused about the possession arrow as I was! There was one guy at the table who had nothing for me, but his insolence eventually became a source of entertainment for us all. It was a crazy close game in a rabid environment, but those guys were great.
Best Hotel: The Embassy Suites in Lubbock, Texas
The Waterfront Lodge in Austin is the place to go, but we can't afford to stay there so I suppose that doesn't count. I love the haunted hotel in Lawrence, but it doesn't have workout facilities so it can't win. I like the Millennium Harvest House in Boulder. You can't beat the view, but the beds are like sleeping on a stone ledge. The Cornhusker in Lincoln is vintage, complete with a Scarlet O'Hara staircase, but I don't recall much else about the place. The Marriott on 11 Street in Austin is terrific, though the 6th Street nightlife wafts even to the 11th floor -- all night long. So, I think I'm going to have to go with the Embassy Suites in Lubbock. The rooms are great. It has tranquil indoor water falls at every turn, and the people who work there are extraordinarily kind and helpful. That is really their crowning glory. Kindness trumps address and luxury every time.
Best Hotel Gift Shop: Starbucks at the Marriott in Austin, Texas
"Tracy's Treasures" in College Station is the most eclectic; however, the nod goes to Starbucks Gift Shop at the Marriott in Austin. It wins not because of the coffee (which I don't drink anyway) or the peanut butter crackers (which were stale, unfortunately) but because of the disposition of the gal who runs the place. She was a breath of fresh air! At 8 in the morning she offered me a cup of ice for the bottle of Diet Coke that I purchased. She gave me a discount for my In Style magazine because she felt that it had been thumbed through repeatedly already, and she smiled and looked at me when she talked! I was glad I stayed at the Marriott just because of her! It made me wonder how much better our world might be if more people would just buy their coffee from the gift shop lady in Austin.
Best Arena: Phog Allen Fieldhouse
It's not the prettiest. It doesn't have the best lighting. For women's basketball it doesn't even have the atmosphere. But when you walk in there you feel like you're on hallowed ground. I will never forget the first time we played there. I couldn't wait to take a shot at pregame shoot-around. You just feel like the arms of history wrap around you when you step onto the court. I always say a silent prayer of thanks when I walk off that floor. For a basketball person, it doesn't get much better than the Phog.
Best Fans: Texas Tech -- especially the student section.
In Lubbock, young men replace shirts with body paint, and some add to that ensemble red and black cowboy hats and boots. Many hold signs. All stand. And a few are really clever. I always have a great time there even though the throng of 12,000 is always screaming at me and against us. That thing the Lady Rader Nation puts on is what college athletics is all about.
Best Scenery: Not too tough. No one has water (well, Austin does, but it's not an ocean so I don't think that counts) and only Boulder has mountains so Colorado wins.
No one has particularly wonderful weather or amazing points of interest (unless you count Buddy Holly's birthplace or the George Bush Library) but we boast the best fans in the country. Nobody comes out in droves for women's college basketball like the people of the Big 12! It is a privilege and an honor to compete in this league, but as good as life can sometimes be on the road, there is NO place like Norman, Okla.! Happy Anniversary, Big 12 conference -- the best is yet to come!For more on coach Coale and the Sooners, visit Oklahoma's official athletic site.