This is what you work for
Sherri Coale is in her sixth year as coach at Oklahoma. After seven years of coaching at the high school level, the Oklahoma native was hired by the Sooners. She has led Oklahoma to two Big 12 regular season titles and two back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances. The Sooners are ranked No. 4 in the preseason AP poll. Check out Coale's diary on CNNSI.com throughout the season.
November 2, 2001
This is my favorite time of year. I love practice. My days are divided into thirds. The first third is spent planning practice. The second third is spent practicing. And the third is spent analyzing practice. As my assistant and I were walking up the stairs of the dusty, still-under-construction Lloyd Noble Center at the close of Oct. 13, I said to her, "Can you believe we get paid to do this?" To which she replied, " Yeah. Is this a great country or what?" A few days later, practice No. 8 to be exact, we had an amazing day. Our guys were really, really good. I left the Lloyd Noble Center thinking, "If a national championship feels any better than this, I can't even comprehend the experience." It's really hard to beat a day when players learn what you teach.
I think it's funny and (often somewhat fabulous) that our memory never really presents the past with the factual acuity that we think it does. I was so hyped for day one of practice that when it came and went, I was actually disappointed. I had wanted us to be better. We weren't bad but I think deep down inside I expected the '95 Bulls to take the floor in OU practice jerseys. So when we were finished, I was, as you might imagine, a bit let down. So I took home practice tape No. 1 from 2000 and watched it that night just to make sure, and thank goodness my memory is fuzzy at best. We were quite a lot better on day one of this year than day one of last. But then again, we're supposed to be. We have the same players and if they're not better after 365 days, I don't deserve my paycheck.
The thing that I notice about the first two weeks of practice is our speed. We seem really fast. I'm not sure if that's because we're so small that it is actually an optical illusion or if we really can run. I truly believe that if we were competing in a 6-foot and under league, we'd be an odds on favorite for a national championship. Last time I checked, however, the NCAA tournament has no height requirements -- unfortunately, neither does the Big 12 -- so I'm going to say our margin of error has decreased dramatically.
We're having a great time with all of the lofty expectations of pre-season. Members of the media keep asking me if it has created a lot of pressure. My response is steadily, "No." Pressure comes when you have no players. Pressure comes when you are so far down the pre-season rankings you can't find your name. This is fun. This is what you work for.
Overall, our upper classmen have retained a great deal and they are in the best physical condition of any team I've ever had (thank you, Robyn Schmidt). Our four freshmen are talented and eager but they have an awfully lot to learn. We've thrown a lot at our guys early and the freshmen are overwhelmed. They each bring something different to the table, though, and could contribute significantly this season if they can just hang on and catch what they can.
We played our first exhibition game last night. (It was Nov. 1!) I apologized to the officials because our players had to be continually reminded that they had to inbound the ball on the baseline whether we had inbounds plays in yet or not. It gave us what it was supposed to give us, however: a gauge as to where we are and what we need to work on between now and Nov. 11 when we open vs. Purdue. Late in the second half when every offensive possession was an adventure, I think I made the statement that we'd be lucky to win a game this year. My ever optimistic and intelligent assistant reminded me that we had four freshmen on the floor at the time. That must have been the reason it reminded me so much of third grade recess.
Exhibition game tape had to wait last night -- on Game 5 of the World Series. I missed President Bush's impressive opening strike, but I made it home in time to catch the crowd's late-inning chant of "Paul O-Nei-il". I found a box of Kleenex and went nuts with everyone else when Soriano singled home Knoblauch in the 10th. When the late-night celebratory rendition of New York, New York finally came, I had almost forgotten about our inability to consistently rotate on the back side and it seemed that New York had perhaps almost forgotten it no longer held the twin towers. This series is America's favorite pastime at its finest.
If you weren't in love with the Yankees before, you are at least infatuated with them by now. Their triumphs seem in some sort of a way to be our country's salve. Their extra inning heroics, a metaphor for their city and our country: a relentless reminder that we will not go away. It would almost be un-American for them to lose -- in Yankee stadium anyway. About 1 a.m. when I finally got to the exhibition game film, I rediscovered what I already knew: It is never as good or as bad as you think.
I like this team because they care -- not so much about the final score or their stat line but about doing it as well as it can possibly be done all the time. It seems (right now anyway) that the important stuff matters. If it stays that way, perhaps we'll have a chance to prove Lindy right. Who knows? That's what makes this all so much fun.
-- Coach Coale