But now they believePosted: Wednesday November 21, 2001 12:25 PM
Updated: Wednesday December 05, 2001 11:25 AM
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. 3 in the latest AP poll. Check out Coale's diary on CNNSI.com throughout the season.
November 20, 2001
I was slipping in and out of consciousness last night through the ten o'clock news when I heard Dean Blevins say that the Duke men had narrowly escaped Seton Hall and that Roy Williams' Jayhawks had not survived Ball State.
Then sandwiched between "there were 87 free throws shot in Oklahoma State's win over Providence" and "Goodnight Oklahoma" I heard him say " ... and the Oklahoma women move up to third in the latest AP poll." Suddenly I'm no longer comatose. "Connecticut, Tennessee, Oklahoma ..." that's how it reads. I'd be lying if I said it didn't make me giggle a little.
We're 3-0. I'll take it, but it hasn't all been pretty. We've had moments of brilliance spanned by hours of mediocrity. I think my players sometimes think I don't see the brilliance, but I do. I just know that the mediocrity will beat you lots more than the brilliance will save you. The problem here is not the dichotomy but the ratio. Moments of mediocrity spanned by hours of brilliance equals Sears Trophy. If only there were a formula for manipulating the balance.
We opened eight days ago versus Purdue. ESPN chose as their parting camera shot me mouthing the word, "Wow". "Wow" is right. It certainly wasn't pretty, but they don't give points for aesthetics, and I'll take it any way I can get it. We beat the No. 9 team in the country with Stacey Dales playing less than half the game and Neisha Caufield playing only slightly more. I will take it. I told my guys in the locker room after the game: We just saw all of our worst fears. What an unbelievable opportunity this season opener gave us.
We had a breakdown in practice a couple of weeks ago, the day after Nette tore her ACL. We just locked up. I yelled and they ran and the gym smelled of fear. As I talked with our leaders after practice, it finally surfaced. After 20 minutes of fluff-suppositions and explanations that cover the truth-it finally came: "What if we play a team with two huge post players? What if we get in foul trouble? What if some of us have to play 40 minutes? What if we shoot poorly from the perimeter? What if, what if, what if? The imagination is at once a perilous foe and a stimulating companion for smart teams. The questions came, and I answered them and my players had faith that I was right.
But now they believe. Because it all happened in Durham. We saw it all. We faced 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-3. We shot 25 percent in the first half and went 3-14 from the three-point line. Stace and Neish were in foul trouble from the get-go and Caton and Roz played virtually every minute of the game. And you know what? We found a way to win. Period. We found a way to get it done. Nothing injects swagger into your veins like looking fear in the face and surviving.
I am incredibly proud of our team. It took us all. We received quality minutes from two freshmen (33 from Di and 10 from Shoush -- which boasted a fast break lay-up and a crucial 3-point basket). And we got solid time from Steph Simon and Kate Scott -- two walk-ons who have been put on scholarship because they're worth their weight in gold as a part of our chemistry. I love their commitment and how real they keep our team.
Team travel has changed dramatically since Sept. 11. We left our hotel at 4:45 a.m. and arrived at the Raleigh-Durham airport at 5:15 a.m. -- the exact time at which the ticket counter opened. We spent the next hour and a half in the world's longest security line. We stood single file as armed guards paced up and down barking orders about removing jackets and emptying pockets and being orderly about it. They even took a disposable camera from a man who obviously knew we had entered a different time, to live in a world that is a different place, and wanted to document the days in which he first began to comprehend that. He'll have only the memory as a reminder now.
The airline held our plane (like they had much of a choice -- we were a party of 30 traveling in a jet that looked to be carrying about 50) and we finally took off at 7 a.m. -- thirty minutes behind schedule. The day for the airline had just begun. Once on the ground in St. Louis we raced (literally) to make our connection where our injured freshman (who had dragged her leg once again, literally for half a mile) set off a security frenzy. The bulky black and metal brace strapped around Nette's right leg set off all kinds of sensors and drew a quick crowd of people. Fortunately, the commotion was placated by a wise and witty flight attendant who made the executive decision to let Nette board without a strip search. She reminded us all that people have an amazing capacity to make things better or worse simply by their reactions at each and every particular point in time.
We returned to Norman around noon and I returned phone calls and did interviews while unpacking and trying to convince my 5-year-old trooper, who had been up since 4:30 a.m., to take a nap. Later that evening, against my better judgment, she accompanied me to our men's home opener versus Central Connecticut. I tried to talk her into staying home -- to no avail. She'd been my shadow for three days straight. There was no way I was going to get to escape her exhaustion now.
We sat courtside, her little face barely peeking over the media table, as she quietly created priceless masterpieces all captioned "To MOM" and "Love, Chandler". Somewhere about the third jump ball she said, "Why in the world do they keep starting this game over? If they keep doing that we'll never get to go home." And it took about 10 seconds for my 30-year-old synapses to catch up to hers. In her short little life as a basketball connoisseur she's only seen a tossed ball jumped for one occasion -- the opening of a game. Here we were, the men competing under the experimental rule that says tie balls are to be "tipped" instead of being dictated by a possession arrow. And Chandler recognized it. One eye on her artwork, one eye on the game, and an awareness I only wish my players had.
Only minutes later she was snoozing in my lap. Only a coach's kid can do that. As I strapped her into the back seat of the car (after lugging her across the court, up the tunnel, around the concourse, down the stairs and through the parking lot...mothers have an amazing spinal capacity), I couldn't help but think how coaches' kids see things just a little differently. Chandler spilled her cereal in the living room floor last week and yelled, "Turnover!" Colton (my nine year old who is all about offensive spacing), told me after practice last week that he didn't think we blocked out as well as we used to. You know what? I wrote it down. I think he was right. My kids have no routine (unless you count the Wed-Sat rhythm of Big XII play); their favorite food is popcorn; and at least one night a week they fall asleep on the way home from the gym and therefore go to bed without brushing their teeth. But they have an awesome life. They have fifteen sisters and more "aunts and uncles" than any children I know.
So we head to San Antonio tomorrow for our fourth and fifth consecutive road games and Thanksgiving Dinner on the Riverwalk. I go knowing I have more than my fair share for which to be thankful. And I go with high hopes for our team that is learning and growing and changing almost as fast as my children. Our team has a collective conscience that's refreshing. The doors and the windows stay pretty wide open. There's a lot of vulnerability floating around our locker room. I like that. It means we care enough to risk trying to be really good.
-- Coach Coale