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Sherri Coale Conversation
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OU's fiery coach talks about her program
When Oklahoma began the 2005-06 season, most of the talk concerning coach Sherri Coaleâ€™s Sooners was focused squarely on the future â€” the not-so-immediate future. There was no ignoring the fact OU had landed freshmen Courtney and Ashley Paris, a pair of top-10 national recruits with the talent to make a quick impact. But Coaleâ€™s crew figured to still be a year away from turning a major corner.
Well, that corner has been in the Soonersâ€™ rearview mirror for the last three weeks. The teamâ€™s maturation process has accelerated as the season has progressed, and suddenly, Oklahoma is not only the team to beat in the Big 12 Conference, but a legitimate contender on a national scale.
Sooner Spectator caught up with Coale recently to talk about her ninth-ranked teamâ€™s progress and its escalating expectations.
Sooner Spectator: What have been the most defining moments for this team so far in 2005-06?
Sherri Coale: We had several defining moments during holiday practice, returning from Christmas break after losing to Illinois and Michigan State. Winning emphatically on the road at New Mexico was big. Another was beating Iowa State on the road in Ames. Even though they are not having a great season, that was a personal hurdle. Without a doubt the Ohio State game was a defining moment. Even though we lost, we handled everything a very talented, highly-ranked team threw at us until the final possession. The win a few days later at Baylor was a defining moment made possible by having just experienced the defining moment at Ohio State. The sort of begin to build on one and other.
SS: What are your thoughts on the way fans and the public have embraced your team this season?
Coale: I think it has to do with a couple of things. The accessibility of our players is definitely a key. I think people see our players as normal people they can relate to. Sometimes with menâ€™s basketball players and particularly football players, there is a celebrity status that creates a little bit of a barrier. People see our players not so unlike the them, except for the fact they just happen to excel in basketball. Our players further that perception by how they are interviewed, whether it be on television, on the radio or in magazines.
The media frenzy generated by the (Paris) twins also helped create great interest with the fans. And finally the way this team plays the game has really helped broaden our fanbase. Itâ€™s very exciting.
SS: This team is obviously a lot more than just Courtney Paris. That said, what is it about Courtney that has allowed her to raise her game to such a high level in such a short amount of time?
Coale: I believe itâ€™s her mentality. She is extraordinarily skilled and God gave her a phenomenal body that she uses brilliantly, but it is her mentality that separates her. I know when I say mentality that encompasses a lot of things. Courtney has a competitive mindset. She has a quiet confidence. It also involves a humility that allows her to engage those around her. The mixture of all those things is what makes her so extraordinary.
SS: Before this season began, most people thought this team was still a season away from being a national contender. Reality has changed that perception to a large degree, but is it realistic to think this OU team can be a Final Four team this season?
Coale: There are a couple of things that are happening right now. One is we are playing pretty good. People are excited about that and rightly so. The other is we are undefeated in conference play and that hasnâ€™t happened before. Every season, teams begin with lofty goals that may or may not be discussed outside of your locker room. Players come to Oklahoma because they want a chance to play in a Final Four. Thatâ€™s the deal. As far as an aspiration â€” itâ€™s never not been an aspiration for us. Right now, itâ€™s February and April is still a long way away. But I do believe this team has a chance to have a special ending.
(Editor's Note: This interview appears in the Feb. 2006 issue of Sooner Spectator, which will be available on newsstands Feb. 14.)