Wrestling with emotions

Updated: January 14, 2007, 11:57 PM ET

Editor's note: In conjunction with SoonerSports.com, Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale and All-American sophomore Courtney Paris are sharing a blog with ESPN.com. Check back for regular entries in The Sooners' Latest.

By Courtney Paris
Dec. 13, 2006

Two days ago, I sat at my computer and I couldn't think of anything to write about.

"Sorry, Chris, I've got nothing," were my replies to the "Is your blog ready?" questions from OU media relations director Chris Freet.

Things have changed, and as I write this, I feel like the word blog means I don't have enough space to write everything down.

I'd been in a slump lately, in all facets of my life. No joy is what it feels like. It's not that I didn't have a reason to be happy, but I just get so down in one spot that I started to sink and forget what all those reasons were.

I know I shouldn't, but I get that way sometimes; I'm not always in a great mood or smiling -- I'm human. But I was quickly reminded of why I'm a little bit lucky this past weekend and it has nothing to do with double-doubles. Instead, it was watching little boys wrestle; that's what I was doing Saturday afternoon -- that's what I was doing when my life got a little bit better.

I went to watch Colton Hansmeyer (My assistant coach's 10-year-old nephew) wrestle the other day. And guys, I could not believe it. There were little boys wearing -- I don't even know what to call them -- wrestle suits? They are spandex that go from your thighs and come up over your shoulders. Anyway, these little guys looked so cute, others funny; some looked way too strong to be in elementary school, others too little to wrestle … nonetheless, they were out there. The older guys (11, 12) had more technique. They'd throw their hands toward the face of the other guy, waiting to catch him off guard and take him down. All the little techniques for trying to get the pin and not get pinned were amazing. I mean, really, who comes up with this stuff?

The little guys (4, 5 and 6) were adorable. The whistle would blow and they'd go right for the legs, slamming (OK, slamming is a little intense of a word for what I actually witnessed, but I'm going to keep it) each other to the mat. They'd hold and fight and fight and hold -- don't let your shoulders hit the mat, make his shoulders hit the mat!

It was so funny, and scary and sad and competitive … oh my, gosh, I had so many different emotions. Sure enough, they'd go for five minutes. The winner would get the biggest smile on his face and high five everyone in sight. The loser would cry, which was the most heartbreaking thing I have ever witnessed. Then their dads would come over, put their arms around them and convince them that everything was OK, that they were great out there (they really were) and they'd believe him.

It was so cute. One second you'd see the little 40-pounders out there trying to be like dad. Next they had their heads in their moms' laps as they napped before the next round.

And although this was one of the more entertaining experiences in awhile, it was the little boy that I saw before the matches that wrestled his way into my heart.

I get there and I walk in and look down to find a little boy staring at me. Thank goodness I didn't run him over; I'm so bad about that. My sister, Ashley, always yells at me, "Watch out Courtney. You almost ran into that lady!" I run into shorter people a lot and I don't mean to, but I don't walk with my head up so I don't see them. Sorry if you've been a victim.

Back to the story … I was standing there so I broke the silence and awkwardness of the stare.

"Hello, little guy."

"Hey."

"Have you wrestled today?"

In this lovable deep accent: "Yeah, the first guy forfeited, but I played the second guy and beat him by five points!"

Having no idea what five points equated to, I said, "Good job," and gave him a high five. Then his dad came to steal my little friend away. But before he could, the little guy wrapped his arms around me for a hug that literally pulled me out of my funk. Immediately, I was okay again and the world wasn't so bad.

I remembered why it is that I do what I do, and even more so why I love it so much. I never knew women's basketball players made a difference in the lives of little boys who wrestle -- or that little boys who wrestle made a difference in the lives of women's basketball players. So glad I found out.

Till next time!

***** ***** *****

Some precious soil

By Sherri Coale
Dec. 3, 2006

In the span of one short week, my narrow feet have walked upon some pretty sacred soil. They have taken me through the sands of Waikiki beach, up the slope of Diamond Head Mountain, over the submerged bow of the USS Arizona, across the planked wood of Nell and John Wooden Court, and inside the shops of Rodeo Drive. Alright, I admit it. The shops on Rodeo Drive are not one bit sacred, but the other four are worth more than the price of admission.

I've experienced Pearl Harbor three times now. On each visit the land seems sad. I saw it this time, however, from an additional angle. I looked across the island from the vantage point of a turret ledge on the shoulder of Diamond Head one afternoon as two Black Hawks muscled their way in front of the line where the ocean meets the sky to nestle in the crater below.

From there it looked different. Not so much sad, but more secure. Not secure as in safe from Japanese attack, but secure as in accomplished -- peeled back and brave, as are people I know who have overcome. You felt proud standing there in the midst of all that stark honesty. It made you want to scale down the mountain and do a little better in your corner of the world.

Waikiki Beach is sand and blue, blue salt water and chunks of coral and people, people, people. You've heard of "water water everywhere and not a drop to drink"? Waikiki is "people people everywhere and not a place to lie". If you can go to your happy place where tourists are invisible, the sun and the sand and the water feel like paradise. If you can't, it feels like a New York City sidewalk.

Our players tried a little bit of everything while on the island. They parasailed and snorkeled and shopped and swam. They ate shrimp in an open air cafe while God painted a masterpiece on the sky behind them. Erin Higgins taught her table to say "levator labii superioris alaeque nasi" and then to locate it. Guess what she's going to be when she grows up? Amanda and Ny had it sounding like a hip-hop song. They will not, as a result of this experience, forget the purposeful Elvis muscle hiding between the lip and cheek, nor will they forget when they learned it. That's one of those "added values" nobody tells you about when you sign your letter of intent.

Almost everyone rented boards and tried to surf. Emphasis on the "tried" part. Carolyn Winchester, a native of the thriving oceanic metropolis of Washington, Okla., was far and away the most successful surfer of the bunch . As a matter of fact, she's the only one I actually ever saw upright. Unless, of course, you count [OU media relations director] Chris Freet (Cali boy aka cheater) or Jan Ross or Chandler Coale. We have the CD of photos to serve as proof for the latter two. And I think a few of the unsuccessful surfers might have scars.

TK [assistant coach Chad Thrailkill] brought his son, Brayden, along on this excursion. It was boys' week out; TK is the father of four under the age of eight and this was an opportunity for him to spend some rare one on one time with his middle son. Bray is five. He and my two played ocean football, and they bodysurfed, and they built stuff -- not really castles, just mounds and moats on the Waikiki sand. I have an awesome picture of Bray and Chandy on the beach. Their faces are snuggled up close, her tanned nose and cheeks covered in a spray of nature's finest angel kisses, Bray glowing lily white beneath the cloak of Coppertone that TK purchased by the gallon. We laughed at him all week (TK, not Brayden), but I don't think I've ever seen a better dad.

The Los Angeles leg of the journey was tough. I'm not sure if it was the time change, the smog, or the length and breadth of our travel party that eventually wore us down, but our performance in the hallowed halls of Pauley Pavilion left a lot to be desired. We alternated between comatose and panic, playing intermittently against UCLA and against ourselves. I feel like we owe Coach Wooden an apology. Basketball shouldn't be that ugly on a floor that bears his name. It felt blasphemous to win there playing like we played. But it counts. They all do. And it gave us great film fodder from which to learn.

We went 3-0 on the trip and we found out a lot about our basketball team. We're not very good yet. But I think we have a chance to be really special. Every now and then in the middle of two or three spastic possessions, we'll have one that just hums. And we get that glimpse, that foreshadowing, of what can be. Like that one smooth golf swing that makes you want to go to the course again tomorrow …

Aiming for April …

***** ***** *****

Q&A with Courtney

By Courtney Paris
Nov. 13, 2006

It's time for some questions that were submitted online. Thanks to everyone who sent in questions and keep them coming.

From Jane in Midwest City, Okla.: Thanks for coming to OU. I have season tickets this year to watch you and the other great ladies who play for OU and Sherri. I think I read that you are a communications major, but is coaching a possibility in the future for you?

CP: People tell me thanks for coming to OU all the time. Let me just say the pleasure is all mine. I am so glad you have purchased season tickets. I think we set a record this year and that is so exciting from a players standpoint. Honest to goodness, there is nothing better than running out and seeing the Lloyd Noble Center packed. Thanks and cheer like a champion.

Yes, I am a communications major, journalism to be more specific. I love to write and my life dream is to write a book that makes it into Oprah's Book Club (keep your fingers crossed). It's funny that you asked about coaching. About a month ago I started saying around the office that I was going to be an assistant coach after college and then take over the program after coach Coale leaves. My assistants are in line, too. Carolyn Winchesters is my Jan Ross, basketball goodness knowing all the nicks-and-nacks on the court. My sister, Ashley, is my No. 1 recruiter, and Britney Brown will be my guard coach.

This is all more a joke than anything, but I bet coaching is going to be something I pursue in one way or the other. If it's college, high school, or just a boys' and girls' club team, I'm pretty sure I'll dabble in it.

From Kelsie in Webster, N.Y.:Courtney, when you play a game, and if you make a mistake, how do you get past it? How do you get motivated to do better and work harder the next time? And how do you stay yourself through all the glory and fame?

CP: What are you talking about? I never make mistakes.

Yeah, right … maybe I make so many mistakes that I am just used to it, so it doesn't faze me. I also try to look at the bigger picture. Everyone makes mistakes, it's just what you do about them. For instance, getting hit by a screen -- do you continue to get hit or do you adjust so that next time you get it right?

Then there are things like the ball slipping out of your hands. It happens; to dwell on it is foolish. There is nothing more frustrating than the player who throws the ball away, gets all mental about it and then fouls someone out of frustration. Let it go, move on.

What helps me move on? It's teammates saying, "It's ok, you got it next time," or coaches saying, "You better not do that again or you're coming out." (There's nothing more motivating than that.) Whatever it is, the most important thing is to move on.

From W. Hill in Oklahoma City: Courtney, you are obviously a "superstar" yet you come across as the consummate "team" player. I think it is an admirable trait, but something that is often missing in a superstar. I wonder where you learned the concept of "team first"? Does it come from your parents? Does it come from some previous coach? I think it is an important message that you send to young girls. That is often overlooked by modern players.

CP: I guess the first thing is I don't define myself as a "superstar," but instead a Sooner. I don't get any breaks from anything; we all put in the same work to help Oklahoma basketball go. We all have our own gifts. It is in every way a team thing.

Sure, a little comes from my parents, previous coaches and teammates. They always say if you want to do it all by yourself, then golf. Well, I tried golf and I am not very good at it. So I think I'll stick to basketball, which is a team sport.

To be honest, I think it hit the most last year when I got an opportunity to go to Boston for the Final Four as an All-American, but my team didn't go. It was honestly the worst feeling in the world being there alone and not playing. More than ever, I realized it's just not worth it if you don't do it as a team. There is no I in team (ha … sorry, I couldn't resist).

From Brittani DePriest in Broken Arrow, Okla.: First of all, I just want to say I love you! I came to some of your games last year and I noticed how graceful you are. I am a point guard but I'm one of those players who likes to go down against the big girls and fight for rebounds. What I want to ask you is what do you do to get your footwork down? I've done a couple of drills and stuff but I want to be graceful like you. Also I hope to be where you are today. I want to play for OU and I have wanted to for so long. I'm a freshman in high school, so I have awhile. But if you could, I would like you to tell Kendra Moore that I love her, too!

CP: I will be sure to send Kendra your kind words, and thanks so much for mine. Let me just tell you to keep crashing the boards. There is nothing more annoying (in a good way) for a post player than a guard that is muscling it down low for a rebound. Keep that toughness.

My footwork, hmm, let me see … It probably all started 16 years ago when my mom put me in dance class (smile -- I was really good) and then carried on to my one year of gymnastics (not so good). Beyond that, just a lot of work with coaches over the years. I remember my first AAU coach would run clinics instead of practices every weekend and it was so annoying because all we wanted to do was play. Instead, it set a foundation for fundamentals that have carried me over the years. So I guess the ingredients for foot work would have to be dance class and a dab of gymnastics, mixed in with a whole lot of time and practice … oh, and preseason with Timothy (you'll meet him when you get here).

***** ***** *****

'I'd ride to the trash dump with Anna Quindlen'

By Sherri Coale
Nov. 2, 2006

(Editor's note: Coach Coale continues to write about authors in her Coale Collection at the Bizzell Memorial Library. This entry was spurred by a question from Jamie Aguilar in Enid, Okla.)

I love Anna Quindlen. A couple weeks ago at Big 12 media day, the guys from FoxSports asked a plethora of quick response questions, including the dreaded, "If you could go to dinner with any three people who would it be?" To which I responded: John Wooden, Oprah Winfrey and Anna Quindlen.

I can't remember when I began to be an Anna Quindlen disciple, but it was before her infamous commencement address at Villanova. I love her novels -- I'm reading "Rise and Shine" right now, and it's taking forever because I keep re-reading the sentences I love and on average that's about five per page. But I love her essays more. I love the way she attends to the details of stuff; the simple things the average eye overlooks. I bet I have given more than 50 and probably closer to 100 copies of "A Short Guide To A Happy Life" as gifts to people at the great crossroads of life or for simply no reason at all. I believe in its potential impact so much that I keep a stockpile in my desk drawer, just in case.

A visitor to SoonerSports.com asked for my opinion on this Quindlen quote: "Don't ever confuse the two, your life and your work. That's what I have to say. The second is only part of the first." It is vintage Anna Quindlen. She's a writer. She's a mother. She's a wife, a friend, a daughter -- a person whose chief aim in life it seems is to live. She takes herself with a grain of salt, at least it appears. That makes her real and simultaneously magical. I think I'd like to play tennis with her or perhaps plot and plant a flower garden. And I bet she'd enjoy sitting with me, right now, under the canopy of swirling butter colored leaves in my backyard. I don't know that, but her writing makes me think it might be true.

In this profession I have chosen, the line that separates life and work is blurry at best. I am at once, always me and always the head basketball coach at the University of Oklahoma. In my pew at Westside Church of Christ, I am the coach; shopping for shoes at the mall, I am the coach; sitting in the bleachers at my son's football games, I am the coach; at my daughter's elementary school assemblies, I am still the coach. Professions of a public nature really don't allow for separation. I am really never "off". But I'm not sure that's exactly what Anna Quindlen was talking about.

I think her reference is one of perspective. I think she's speaking to a world she sees that is filled with people who define themselves by what they do. That's a very scary thing. John Wooden changed the basketball paradigm, but it was not the championships he won that define him. It is, instead, the life he has lived. Coach Wooden pens a love letter to his late wife Nellie every year on her birthday. She has been gone from this earth since 1985. His work was his work and he was fabulous at it. But his life is a masterpiece, probably primarily because he never got the two confused.

I don't know Oprah. I'm just like the rest of the population trying to get a ticket to her show. But I bet if you asked her, "Did you set out to affect the masses or did you simply set out to live?" she would say "to live." And in the pursuit of living she found a work that no one else in the world can do quite like she can.

I'm guessing that's why Anna Quindlen writes so much about life: she's square in the middle of living it. Not a lot of people are. Lots and lots just breathe in oxygen and take up space. Confusion between life and work can lead you there to that disjointed, zombie- like place. What keeps you from it? Kids. Prayer. Silence. Music. Books. Tragedy. Love. Anything could, I suppose. Anything that causes you to pause. And I don't know many people, who if forced to be still and think for a second, would argue with Quindlen's quote. We just all move so fast sometimes that life gets turned upside down.

Thinking about Anna Quindlen makes me think about a passage from Anne Lamott (what is it about all my favorite female authors being named Anne???) that I will not do justice as I paraphrase. But in a point whose relevance I can't even at this time recall, she wrote about people with whom you feel alive. And she says that there are those who could invite you to a five-star restaurant, followed by a magical Broadway play, topped off by a carriage ride in Central Park and you might say "No thank you. I would rather stay home and watch the aspic set." (It's jelly. I had to look it up.) And that then there are those who might say, "I have to take this load of trash to the dump. It's about an hour drive one way and my truck doesn't have air conditioning," to which you will answer, "Don't you dare leave without me. I can't think of anything I'd rather do."

My point? I think I'd ride to the trash dump with Anna Quindlen. Maybe more importantly, I am blessed to have a handful of people in my life -- many with whom I work -- about which I can say the very same thing. They help to keep the proverbial horse in front of the cart. Work is a part of life, yes. But when vocation is chosen with a passionate eye, you can scarcely tell which is which. Life and work blend seamlessly together, the former giving the latter a reason for being. And the people, oh the people you do it with! Life and work. They make it all matter. I say, don't ever get that part confused.

Aiming for April …

***** ***** *****

All about spacing and timing

By Sherri Coale
Oct. 8, 2006

I started to write my blog yesterday. It was going to be all about spacing and timing -- essentials of good offense and tools of wise-beyond-their-years superstars (see C. Paris blog below, logged the week before preseason conditioning testing). But then we went recruiting and I changed my mind. I started, a second time, then, to write on the never ending saga of the not-quite-rich-and-semi-famous on their travels, and it turned into a novelette whose specifics could not be relayed at this time. So here I am at topic three. A lot happens in my days. I'm hoping I finish this before the plane lands so there is not, this month, a topic four.

Pat Conroy was in Norman last night. He had dinner at the President's house. I was invited (Oh how I love my job!) and I couldn't go (Oh how I hate my job!). For those of you who might be lost, Pat Conroy is a writer. He is an author, yes, but I think sometimes those two can be different. He is a Southern boy, a former point guard, a historian. He is a lot of things, like most of us. But what Pat Conroy does better than anyone currently walking on this planet is spin a sentence. His prose is melodic. Mrs. Boren was telling me today that Pat's mother read to all of her children aloud -- throughout their high school years. She would scour the local libraries as they moved about from town to town and she would read to them; thus his passion for words. No wonder his sentences have such cadence.

When I was in college I read "The Prince of Tides" and I fell in love. I fell in love with Tom, in spite of his frailties. I fell in love with the Carolina sand and the waves that graced it, even though I had never been east of the Mississippi River. And I decided that if I ever had a daughter I would name her Chandler because I loved the way it looked in the middle of his sentence on paperback page 12.

When I became a teacher, I taught some novels because I felt like I was supposed to, and I taught some because I thought they were important pieces of history or culture and could not/should not be bypassed, and then I taught some just because I loved them. "The Prince of Tides" slid in there. They came out with a movie -- Nick Nolte played Tom and Barbra Streisand played Lowenstein. I always wondered what Pat Conroy thought about that. (If I had had dinner with him last night I would have asked him that, among other things.) His richly dark characters were adequately developed, and though I missed Conroy's musings that were through the screen to be inferred, I cried like a baby when Babs violently embraced Nick Nolte in the middle of a frenzied New York sidewalk. Even so, it didn't hold a candle to the book. The best part of the movie came at the beginning and then again at the end as the narrator read Conroy's words straight from the pages of my "this is how you write a sentence" Bible.

I used his passage on the values of football to teach my Oklahoma high school students that you can write 'pretty' about anything you love. I plucked almost all of my linguistic lessons from similes, metaphors and alliteration peppered throughout the story. And our vocabulary lessons because of 'The Prince' were a painter's poem waiting for a place to happen. My copy of that book is dog -eared and highlighted. I have scribbled in the margins, underlined the text, and dripped salty tears on the back cover. And I have attempted to read every sentence Pat Conroy has written since.

In 2003, Conroy published "My Losing Season", a novel based on his personal experience at the Citadel as a point guard whose passion for the sport of basketball leaps in and out of his sentences like a perfectly dropped dime to a backdoor cutter. I hid the paper cover as I carried it with me on road trips (we were struggling and our team didn't need subliminal messages!) where I devoured every word. I have not seen, since John McPhee's linguistic portrait of Bill Bradley, words woven together so perfectly around the essence of a ball player. Had I been a college coach in 1963, I would have recruited Pat Conroy if I could have found him. I don't care how rough the edges of his game.

Had I had dinner with this gifted man last night, I would have listened a lot. And I would have talked a little because as fabulous of a speaker as I am certain that he is, I bet his metier is conversation. And that takes two, at least. Just like a good drive to the basket is so because of who you beat to get there, words need foils. In the air and in print. Every sentence plays off of the one before and sets up the one to follow, though the best ones never seem to be doing either. Good conversation, good basketball, good writingthey share a cadence, a flow, a rightness that is hard to describe but impossible to miss when you're in the middle of it.

I missed dinner with Pat Conroy. Maybe this blog has been about spacing and timing after all.

Aiming for April …

***** ***** *****

A word (or two) of thanks

By Courtney Paris
Sept. 27, 2006

(Note from Chris Freet, associate media relations director at OU: Courtney Paris was asked by OU Director of Athletics Joe Castiglione to address the entire athletics deparment staff at its annual Department Wide Meeting on Sept. 28. Paris spent a few minutes thanking the staff of 250-plus employees for "helping her succeed on the court and in the classroom." That speaking opportunity motivated her to write the following blog entry.)

Hello again, I'm back to blog it up, if you will. We are three days away from the end of preseason and I couldn't be happier as that calls for the official end of what has to be the worst part (unless you're Leah Rush) of being a Division I athlete: conditioning.

Conditioning equals stadiums and hills, ladders and suicides, shuttles and 55s. It's files and stretching, hand walks and toe touches, hurdles and up-and-downs. Gosh, 2 o'clock owns me on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Vomit -- literally and figuratively. It can eat at your heart if you let it. Luckily we have the best (and I have gone out on no limbs to say this) strength and conditioning coach in the nation.

Tim Overman is the god that lives in hell for me. I love him to death. I remember when I came in my freshman season I was so scared. You hear all the horrors of conditioning and preseason, and let me tell you -- they are true. We girls always joke about the possibility of the sky falling or an alien attack on earth just so conditioning can be canceled for the day. The irony of it all is I wouldn't trade "Tim Time" for anything. It's hard, but it's amazing how it can help bring a team together, how Tim helps bring our team together.

Tim never lets you quit. He cares so much about us girls it is crazy. He's like the big brother that is actually nice. He makes conditioning and all the time we spend with him a joy. I will leave college knowing that I will not miss the actual activities of "Tim Time," but I sure will miss all the time I spent with Tim.

I think that's one of the coolest things about Oklahoma. We have the most amazing "other people." And I mean that with no disrespect, but you hear about the head coach and assistants all the time.

But the best part of my day is walking in and seeing coach Coale's assistant, Kate. She has all the best candy, the prettiest little girl, Hanna, and a little boy, Gabe, who hasn't taken to me yet … but he will. Then there is Paula, and I am sure coach Coale would credit her for the organization of our program. She is a stud and keeps everything in order, not to mention her peanut M&M jar is always full!

Carolyn, our trainer, is young, hip and down to earth. She is the only person I let see my god-awful feet, and she does not judge me for them. It's the best coming in before practice, catching the end of the VH1 show "Flavor of Love" and chatting it up. Sometimes I fake reasons to be in the training room just so I can talk to her.

Christ Freet, our SID who bugs me to death about blogs and everything else, is like my other brothers -- mean. I'm just kidding. He is the best; he works so hard to get our program the attention we deserve and goes full bore everyday. It's so neat seeing the things he comes up with, even though I give him a hard time about everything -- the guy is a stud!

Fred, who is banned from playing basketball until he gets his handles right, has the best music selection ever and he cooks the best steak in Norman (better than Outback). Angela, our head equipment manager, makes sure that everything is in line in the locker room and she has a great staff of student helpers. Guy Austin, our new director of operations, is going to take our program to another level. I can already feel it. I still miss Bill Pink (whom Austin replaced), even though he kept me from being the tallest person on the office height chart. I love these people!

I get asked all the time, "Why did you pick Oklahoma?" It's simple -- it's the people. The quality of people I interact with around here doesn't get much better. How lucky am I?

'Til next time.

***** ***** *****

What's that sound? Freshmen all around

By Sherri Coale
Sept. 12, 2006

Last week I went to Norman High School for Back-to-School Night -- as a parent. It was so weird. My son is a freshman cruising up and down the same halls I used to patrol. I have no idea where the days and the years go. After his first day of classes I asked him to tell me about his day, and he said it was "good" (the most overused word in the entire English language and his current standard response for everything).

He said, "My advisor had you for a teacher when she was at Norman High. She said you dressed up like a cheerleader on Halloween and put your hair in a ponytail on the side of your head and chewed gum real loud all day." Super. Welcome to high school, Colton … and the always entertaining legacy of your mom.

I had five freshmen begin classes this August at the University of Oklahoma. They're making my seniors feel old so you can only imagine what's happening to me! Last weekend at the tailgate before the football game, one of these precocious newbies spotted some gray in the top of my head, and she almost lost her mind. "Coach!" she screamed. "When did your hair start turning gray?" And I said, "About two months ago when you guys got here!"

In all seriousness, these five new guys have been the biggest breath of fresh air. They are talented -- really talented. They are attentive in individual work, and they are toughening up with every day of conditioning. What I love most about them, however, is their passion. These guys are so alive! They are sometimes way too loud; they've had to be reminded that cell phones are not body parts; and they've had to endure a seminar about the "off" button on an iPod. But they love to play ball.

A couple of Sunday's ago I was at the office organizing some things for our Monday morning staff meeting when I heard balls bouncing in the gym below. About an hour later in busts Nyeshia, Amanda, and a friend of Nyeshia's from her home state of Arkansas. They brought the ball with them (of course!) and for a solid hour I watched and listened and laughed until my ribs were sore. Amanda went slow-mo, complete with play-by-play, giving me a glimpse of the hurt she planned on putting on defenders this fall. And then she and Ny took me through pregame -- from the explosion out of the locker room at the close of the team prayer to their hyperventilation in the opening possession, punctuated by them motioning -- in unison -- for a 20 second time-out.

It was hysterical. It was also precious. Our fab five are so proud to be at Oklahoma … and Oklahoma is just as proud to have them. I can't wait for the world to watch them go!

Over the next few months, wish me patience as I follow all my freshmen -- those in my gym and in my house. Though their learning curve is steep, I'm loving the possibilities in the air around them.

Aiming for April …

(P.S. Those old guys in my gym aren't half bad either.)

***** ***** *****

Don't waste time being intimidated

By Courtney Paris
Sept. 9, 2006

So I haven't blogged in a decade and our sports information director is freaking. I like to get him fired up, so this in fact is a good thing (just kidding, Chris)! In reality, I've been busy. It's not an excuse, just an update.

We've been after it here these last few weeks with conditioning, individual practices and all the other madness that comes with the beginning of the school year. I have found myself going 100 miles per hour.

I saw that I was on the Wade Trophy preseason list. I am grateful and excited. Every once in awhile you need something to help mold your goals, but at the same time, I don't believe in a preseason list. Who is to know what kind of player or team someone will be by the end of the year? It seems so irrelevant. I wasn't on any preseason lists last year, but I still had an amazing opportunity to be a part of some great stuff toward the end. To all the thousands of you out there left off the list, don't worry. It doesn't mean anything; you still have a shot!

I did notice four Maryland players on the list, which is very cool for their program. I am in every way an Oklahoma fan (which goes without saying), but I was really happy to see Maryland have the honor of being national champions last year. I think it's amazing when you can take so many great players and still fit. Yes, fit. Only five people can play and only one person can shoot, but those girls (who are all capable of being superstars) play so well together. It is unbelievable. They were definitely fun to watch last year!

Time for some fan questions:

From Jamie in Hinton, Okla.: Man, I can't just put in a question … I have to add some props to you. I commend you for being the amazing athlete that you are and staying humble. I came to a lot of your games last year as well as in the past. You have awesome leadership skills, even as a freshman. Here's my question: I'm a freshman in high school this year and I'm starting on the varsity team. I'm not a girl who gets intimidated seeing how I'm a hoss. However, I'm only 5 feet, 7 inches. What I'm trying to say is, when I step on the floor, how do I keep my mind focused, stay confident and not get intimidated?

Paris: Hello my fellow hoss. Truthfully, I wasn't sure what hoss meant, so I went to the vocabulary extraordinaire, coach (Sherri) Coale to see what exactly what it means. She replied, "You're a hoss," so I guess that's what I am.

First of all, let me thank you very much for the props. It seems like some days I can't buy a prop around here with people like my sister and Erin Higgins keeping me humble.

OK, now to answering your question. First of all, never be intimidated. Intimidation is visible and it can wreck you. I notice right off the bat when a player is intimidated and I know to attack her because she is not ready. Don't be like that or you will be exposed. Confidence is an attitude, and to be honest, I feel like you have a lot of it. Don't lose that. As much as intimidation is a weakness, confidence is an armor of protection. Coach always gives us attitude quotes. One says that things will happen, but you are in charge of your attitude. With that, decide how you will be when you step out on the court this year. If confident is what you want, then be it. For some reason, I believe you will be just fine, good luck!

From Jessica in Kansas City: Courtney, you are seriously the best player in women's college basketball right now. If you and your sister (and somebody else of your choice) were to play 3-on-3 against any three basketball players in the country, male or female, who would it be and why?

Paris: Ha! You just made me feel like the best player in women's basketball, so I am going to take your word for it (smile). I am just trying to be the best Courtney Paris I can be and I am far from that, but I'm working for it everyday. Hmm … three players? First of all, my other choice would be my sister and [OU freshman post] Abi Olajuwon -- that way I could play the point guard. And we would go up against … hmm … Shaq, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, my three favorite NBA post players. We might not win, but it would be one of the top 10 moments of my life.

Till next time.

***** ***** *****

Many lessons learned in Mexico

By Courtney Paris
Aug. 22, 2006

I am finally home, and I couldn't be happier. Don't get me wrong, I had the best time in Mexico City while competing for USA Basketball. But like they say, "home is where the heart is."

The trip was great. I had a blast with all the girls. It's amazing how stupid things can be so funny, especially when "that's all you got." There are so many inside jokes and amazing memories. USA Basketball is due another round of applause.

Erica White stuck out to me the most in terms of performance. She was amazing with her ball control, moves, and ability to get to the basket and finish. I was even more impressed with her ability to pass the ball. I remember one game she had me in awe. She had at least 12 assists (keep in mind, we all averaged about 20 minutes a game), even though the "official" stats only had her with two. I remember sitting on the bench and telling Erlana Larkins, "I love Erica White." LSU should be very proud.

I love guards who get you the ball, but even more than that, I love guards who have guts and play with a type of swagger that make even the most unsure person on the floor feel on top of the world. That is why I feel Oklahoma teammate Britney Brown is one of the top point guards in the nation. She is so tough and fun to play with. It was an honor to step on the court with her my freshman year.

I love guards who get you the ball, but even more than that, I love guards who have guts and play with a type of swagger that make even the most unsure person on the floor feel on top of the world.

I also gained a boatload of respect for Rutgers' Kia Vaughn on the trip. Her toughness is exceptional. She plays hard every minute she is on the court. We had a mile and a half conditioning test at the beginning of the process, and everyone was worried. The time limit coach gave us to do it in seemed impossible. We were all so scared. We each came up with a strategy about how we would try to finish.

Well, Kia finished the test 10 seconds faster than "impossible." She's a post, and she beat most of the guards. All trip, this girl was proving her toughness. She hurt her shoulder in a practice before our first game and went through hell to get back on the court and play. And thank God, because we were down to one center and the altitude was starting to get to us post players. Anyone can kill, but it takes special people to fight. Kia has a lot of fight.

Finally, I really loved coach Joanne McCallie. She's something different, something special. Michigan State should be proud. She taught me a lot these past few weeks, whether she realizes it. My goal is to learn from USA Basketball, not just to play or see how many points and rebounds I can pull in. Each time I try to take away something that is going to help make me a better player and person. And because of a great coach, a collection of special teammates and a new experience, I accomplished what I set out for.

So, I end with this: Erin Higgins, you're my idol. (Are you happy now?)

***** ***** *****

Believing in the colors

By Sherri Coale
Aug. 10, 2006

Courtney Paris and Sherri Coale
Billy Hefton/Icon SMICourtney Paris, left, and coach Sherri Coale guided Oklahoma to the Sweet 16 last season.

I sent my precious phenom a text message to Mexico City earlier this week: "Score 50, block 10 shots and pull 20 boards … then get after it in the second half." I received no reply, but she'll laugh whenever she gets it, nonetheless. She went 8-for-9 from the field and 2-for-2 from the line in 16 minutes while leading the USA to a 97-57 victory over Puerto Rico. Court just has this uncanny way of making my hyperbole not so much so.

I read today that she dropped off a bit in Game 2: 3-of-6 from the line (sounds a little more like my girl!) and 4-of-7 from the field. She led all players with 10 boards. Her total for two games is 29 points in 35 minutes. Perhaps we're competing in a fairly weak region of the FIBA U20 Championship or perhaps we're fairly good -- either way, our girl seems to be riding the wave she started here in Norman a little less than one year ago.

Court's the kind of kid who stores up stuff. She's in the middle of everything and yet it's like she has this outside eye that sizes it all up while she's immersed. When she gets back she'll tell me what it's like to be a part of an "adopted team family" for a while. She'll tell me which teammates were funny and which ones she felt like she could count on if a game was on the line. Then she'll tell me what she learned about herself and us, though we weren't even there.

Participation in USA Basketball lingers if you let it. I learned so much the summer I spent as an assistant coach pursuing the gold. Those lessons serve me still, sometimes at the strangest junctures. Courtney will come back smarter and better, too -- partly because she'll receive quality coaching and she'll compete against talented competition, but mostly because her eyes will be open all the time.

Some coaches aren't all about the USA experience. Some think their kids need some time off. Others think they need to be with their teammates. Still others may worry that their players will go away and somehow change their allegiance. Not me. I happen to believe in the colors. And I believe in the advantages that come to those who pay attention while they wear them. Courtney helps Team USA and Team USA helps Courtney. God Bless America!

***** ***** *****

Once upon a time in Mexico …

By Courtney Paris
Monday, Aug. 7, 2006

My second entry comes with a disclaimer. I am in Mexico City and typing on a foreign keyboard. Not an easy task. I hope my editors are on the ball.

Well, our team (the USA team, that is, not Oklahoma) just got to Mexico last night (Aug. 6), and once again I am going through culture shock. I will say that besides making friends and competing for the greatest team in the world, the one other thing I love about international basketball is how you are exposed to different styles of life.

After every year with USA Basketball, I come away thankful that I have been able to see a new part of the world. I am even more grateful I get to call the USA home. Everything is not perfect at home and we all have our complaints, but we are surely a blessed country!

Los Angeles and training were a blast. The coaches and executive director of USA Basketball, Carol Callan (my new homey and a top-10 person of all time), surprised us with a day off and a trip to Disneyland, the happiest place on earth.

It was great. You should have seen all of our faces on the Space Mountain ride. I must admit that Essence Carson (Rutgers), Erica White (LSU) and I were very calm. Everyone else was being a baby, especially Jolene Anderson (Wisconsin), who would not even get on the ride. I'm afraid of roller coasters, too, but Mickey Mouse is not out to hurt you.

Personally, I'm getting back into shape here. I am close to preseason shape. Coach (Sherri) Coale brought me into her office before I left and reminded me that this was about more than the great memories. I need to use this time to get ready for the college season. When I get back to Norman, preseason camp will be days away. Thanks for the reminder, coach …

In all honesty, this really helps me get back my focus both physically and mentally. I think it gives all of the players involved an edge on the rest of the country as well. While we get into playing shape, we are also competing against the best players in the game.

I have to admit that I have been MIA for parts of the summer, but I just had to get away from it all. My first year was great and while I embarked on an incredible ride as a Sooner freshman, I was worn out when the year ended.

Now I am back into the swing of things. I'm juiced about another year. I am going to miss Beky Preston and Laura Andrews, but our freshmen are legit. I brag about those guys all the time. They make me proud. Our older teammates are stepping up big-time, too. They are so anxious for their senior years. I love it.

Back to the USA team. We play our first game tomorrow against Puerto Rico [a 97-57 win]. We battled some illness and minor injuries, but I think we are all excited to get on the court. Wish us luck and keep up with all the details on usabasketball.com. Until next time!

P.S. I accidentally drank the water even though I know you are not supposed to. If anything happens to me, I just want everyone to know that in my lifetime, there was nothing better than being a Sooner. Just kidding … or as (OU football assistant coach) Bobby Jack Wright would say, "But seriously!"

***** ***** *****

Joy ride with the '09ers

By Courtney Paris
Friday, July 28, 2006

I must admit that I didn't really understand the concept of a blog when it was first presented to me. After some clarification, I became intrigued.

This is going to be fun and useful. You see, I am a journalism major and this is hands-on experience in writing for public viewing. But this public viewing part makes me a little nervous … the idea of being 19 and putting my writing skills out there for everyone on SoonerSports.com and ESPN.com to read … it is a bit daunting.

Plus, I have to share the space with an English teacher that decided to coach some Division I basketball (that would be Sherri Coale).

It's a bit of a scary idea, but I am not one to back down from a challenge. So I hope you will all check in regularly and feel free to send in your questions and suggestions.

On that note, here comes my first entry.

Just in case you were wondering, my dad did get my sister, Ashley, and me a car as promised. It's a 2006 Jetta. I wanted a Hummer or an Escalade, but I am happy with the Jetta. I am grateful I have a car that gets 35 miles to the gallon (gas prices never mattered to me until I started driving, and, man are they crazy).

I like the road. I love the freedom of driving and I become better at it in a bad way. I speed a lot (the fast drivers get over to let me pass them) and take chances. Hmmm, a lot of chances. But hey, I'm still here and I haven't gotten a ticket -- yet. So in celebration of our new life behind the wheel, Ashley and I wanted to take a road trip before heading out to U-20 USA Basketball Trials on July 28.

The '09ers (that's what Ashley, fellow sophomore Carolyn Winchester and I call ourselves) set out on Interstate 35 for the weekend and it was so much fun. We started Friday by going up to Lake Murray and staying with Carolyn's grandparents for the day. We ate good food, hung out with her little cousins and spent time on the lake. It was beautiful.

To be honest, I was not much of a lake person until I got to Oklahoma. I was not a country music fan, either, but I guess your surroundings just kind of grow on you if you let them. The next morning, after the Winchester's famous chocolate and biscuits, we headed further south for the rest of our big adventure.

It was on the road to Austin (ha … yup, I said Austin, Texas). Down to Longhorn central, and besides a beer bottle behind my back tire, I didn't feel any animosity as a Sooner across enemy lines. We dropped Carolyn off in Leander and drove into the city. Ashley and I did a lot of bonding and fighting (trying to decide which hotel we would stay in), but it worked out perfectly. We watched good movies, ate good food and hung out with family. We also spent time with Erika Arriaran and Purcella (She went to high school with Erika and played club basketball with us in the summers).

We all agreed that we had a blast over the weekend. We began driving back Monday morning and on our last stop before home, we pulled into a gas station/Wendy's to eat. Ashley suggested we go through the drive thru, but since she just sits in the back playing her PSP and sleeping the whole time, she doesn't get a say. Carolyn and I wanted to go in and take a quick break from the car, so that is what we did.

On the way out Ashley asked me where the keys were. I panicked for a second, thinking I left them inside the gas station, but then remembered I had given them to Carolyn, who had gone to the bathroom. So when Carolyn came out of the bathroom, we realized that she didn't have the keys. We must have left them in the car. The car was still there, so there is nothing to worry about … and it's not like they were locked in the car since we didn't have them so we couldn't have pushed the lock button on the remote. And then came a real reason to panic.

Ashley told us that she had manually locked the door before she left. So there we were standing at the gas station, locked out of the car while the keys were just chillin'. Great!

I guess there was a lot of confusion about the keys. I had taken them out of the ignition and put them in the middle for Carolyn, who had been grabbing her purse off the ground. Neither of us were paying attention and I guess she didn't hear me say, "Here Carolyn." So we both got out of the car without the keys. Ashley was lagging behind looking for her credit card and by the time she had gotten out of the car, we were already inside.

Now get this: Ashley went in the front seat right past the keys and locked the door manually (this is why I think it is 60 percent her fault and 40 percent between with Carolyn and me). Anyway, after an hour and a half wait, a locksmith came and opened the door for us and we were back on the road again -- dying laughing about the situation.

Our road trip was great. It was so relaxing and fun, just time to kind of get away from it all. I mean that in a literal sense, since my cell phone did not work most of the time. It was perfect. I feel like I spend all of my time text messaging and worrying about what's next, but for the weekend I didn't have to. I enjoyed the little things and I loved it. For once, I did not miss out.

Now it's time to regain my focus, take my last summer school final and get ready for what has owned my last three summers.

USA basketball has almost become summer tradition for me, like going to the same camp every year. Only this time it's going to have a lot of different campers. I am both excited and nervous about that.

I'm going to miss the usuals, like Abby Waner (Duke), Marissa Coleman (Maryland), "Tina Miller" (aka Kristina Worth from Vanderbilt, our official photographer) and one of my best buddies, Erika Arriaran.

At the same time, I'm excited about Marcella Packer (she likes country music, too), my California girls and coach Joanne McCallie (Michigan State). More than anything, I am excited that Ashley is coming along! To be honest, I am nowhere near as prepared as I should be, but as I always tell my strength and conditioning coach, "I'm a gamer."

Eighteen of us will go try out Friday and 12 of us will be left by Tuesday. I hope Ashley and I are two of the lucky few. I will keep you updated!

***** ***** *****

One hot, cool summer

By Sherri Coale
Thursday, July 27, 2006

Sherri Coale
AP Photo/Jerry LaizureSummer should be synonymous with swimming and sunscreen. But July is a big month for recruiting, which means OU coach Sherri Coale is on the road -- and renting a Ford Taurus.
My SID sends me an e-mail and says he needs a blog. It's July and the Oklahoma heat is oppressive, I'm about to go back on the road, and the word "blog" is creepy. So I'm not real excited about his e-mail. "Blog" makes me think of Paris Hilton or Mark Cuban or some random clerk in New York City who gets fired for unloading on co-workers late at night via her computer. I agreed to do this deal because Chris (the aforementioned SID) said I should and he's an "on-the-money" kind of guy. I also agreed to do it because I enjoy writing. The teacher in me, however, is not a fan of "unfinished manuscripts," but I'm trying to stay trendy here, so we'll see how it goes. Just don't expect gossip or referee ripping. I'm more into musing. So check in as often as you like for a regularly irregular attempt at thinking out loud.

Summer is for swimming. It's for wakeboarding and watersliding and piña colada sunscreen. It's for watching my son play baseball and taking my daughter to camp. It's for fresh flowers in a clear glass vase and fresh tomatoes in a colander straight from the neighbor's garden. That's what summer is … on either side of July, anyway. Because July … well, July is an evaluation period. It's recruiting with a capital R and it's a season all its own.

July, though most people don't know it, is for sweatshirts and down comforters and socks. Those are necessities for the airplanes but they also come in handy in the gyms as well (especially at Walt Disney World where air conditioning a small city is obviously not a financial issue).

July is also the preordained month of the Taurus. Not the zodiac sign but the Ford. The only way I can ever find mine when I leave a gym is to hit the panic button on the remote. Every gymnasium parking lot is a rental car sea of white, silver, and sometimes blue Tauruses. There's an occasional Town Car, sometimes a Caddy, but mostly just a bunch of mid-sized Fords parked side by side by side. I'm often tempted to tie a scarf around the rearview mirror of mine like people do with luggage so they can find it on the baggage carousel.

July disorientation and dementia are not limited, unfortunately, to mode of transportation. I lose my hotel room, too. Oregon City blends into Atlanta and Atlanta blends into Chicago and soon Indianapolis is a combination of all three. What gets scary is when you've been to a hotel often enough that you know the layout before you even open the door to the room but you can't remember if the third floor is this trip or last. I have to admit, I've gone down the hall trying cards until I found the one that cleared green. I'm not sure, but I think that might be illegal.

Mostly, I just long to eat with a utensil. Because in July, you forget what a fork feels like. I dream about salads (and I'm so not a salad girl) and drinks in glasses, not cups. I don't even necessarily care for cereal and yet I crave it in July. I think it's just for the experience of the spoon. For a girl who has grown up licking her fingers at meals, you would think July would be a dream. Proof positive, I suppose, that too much of a good thing really can be too much of a good thing.

The season is winding down and I can smell summer waiting for me on the other side. I just hope I can find my car when I get back to the airport.

For more on Coale, who has a master's degree in education and was a high school English teacher from 1989-96, and Paris, visit the Sooner Blog Spot.

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