Like good conversationPosted: Monday December 10, 2001 2:02 PM
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.
December 8, 2001
Thanksgiving on the Riverwalk was fabulous. The weather was absolutely perfect. We had traditional turkey and dressing complete with pumpkin cheesecake at the hotel buffet. My kids wore shorts and swam daily in the rooftop pool. It was a unique opportunity to participate in the Final Four city, spend some time with our former player and current UTSA assistant coach Phylesha Whaley, and enjoy the initiation of the Christmas holiday at one of the most picturesque spots in the country. (All of that made possible and enjoyable, of course, only because of two wins). Walking along the brightly lit river on Thanksgiving night, I couldn't help but think of both the disappointment of San Antonio five years ago and the allure it holds for March 2002. How ironic for us to be there strapped in between the two. Everything happens for a reason. I am convinced of that.
It was great to spend some time with Phylesha. She came to our practice at Trinity on Wednesday before the classic began, and the team dog piled her even though we were in the midst of warming up. Certain people deserve to be braked for -- whenever or wherever. Phylesha Whaley is one of them. She was my first signee at the University of Oklahoma. She was a 5-foot-10 post player who was still available in late April of her senior year. (That probably tells you about all you need to know.) She was from the small west Texas town of Slaton, and I must have watched her high school game tape 40 times before I offered her a scholarship. I've always said that there was just something about her eyes.
I wish I had been smart enough to know how good she was going to be. I wish I could say now that I knew it all along. But if I did, I'd be lying. I had no idea she would turn out to be the University of Oklahoma's all-time leading scorer and leading rebounder or the Big XII player of the year, or an honorable mention Kodak All-America. I knew nothing of the sort. I just liked her eyes. There was something in them that just said she would run through a wall for me if I asked her to, and I thought going in that that might be the very most important attribute I could find in a player. We had a monumental task ahead of us and it would not be for the faint of heart.
Phylesha's eyes seemed to say to me, "Just tell me when and where and I will be what you need me to be." Boy, was she ever. She is, without question, the foundation of our program's success. She is, without question, the most coachable kid I have ever had. And she is, without question, one of those kids that make you know you could do this job forever. They just don't make players or people much better than Phylesha Whaley. The good Lord certainly smiled on me early in this gig when He gave her to me.
As I sat on media row after our first round win over Butler, I found myself watching Phylesha on the bench during UTSA's game vs. N. Texas (thank heavens for assistant coaches who do what they're supposed to do while my mind is wandering). But I'm so proud of P-Dub. She lives every play on the bench with her team, her expression never hiding much of what she's thinking. It reminded me a lot of how she played-pure, unrestrained, honest -- always honest. And always real.
We finally played at home on Nov. 27! After five games on the road, we couldn't wait. We'd sold a record number of season tickets -- 3,000 plus -- and were anxious to follow up our sell-out crowds from the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament we hosted last March. Community and statewide excitement soared to an all time high and after a 5-0 start, people were craving to see our product up close and personal. The weather had something else in mind, however. After two weeks of 70-degree temperatures, suddenly, on Nov. 27, it snowed. That's right. A 40-degree temperature drop, and snow. And it snowed and it snowed and it snowed. By the time it was finished, we had nine inches. That's not so much if you live in Boulder or Lincoln, or -- God forbid -- Storrs, but in Norman, Okla., that's a winter storm. I swear Old Man Winter must be an Aggie. Last year our two marquee home games -- Iowa St. and Stanford -- were both played in the midst of an all-out ice storm. I told my kids that they could chart their snow days by our game schedule. Want to know when to expect a day off for winter weather? Check the women's basketball schedule. If the Sooners are at home, count on it.
While the winter weather did affect our crowd, it didn't seem to affect our performance too much. We defeated TCU on Tuesday, built a snowman on Wednesday, watched it melt Thursday (where we also sneaked in a victory over Wichita State), and then wore shorts Friday as we took the first of two desperately needed and highly appreciated days off. Oklahoma weather is predictable in that you can always count on constant change. The similarities between it and a collegiate women's basketball team are frightening.
Finally, we had the opportunity to enjoy more than one day between games. There for a while it felt like the middle of Big XII play. Prepare, prepare, prepare. This is how we want to defend this screen and here's how we can exploit this coverage and here we go. Very little time was left over to work on us. So we enjoyed the workouts Sunday and Monday. We worked on spacing and timing -- the two constants of good offense and of most good things in life, come to think of it. And we blocked out. When your tallest player is 6-foot-1, blocking out is a whole lot more important than rebounding. I think we got better at both. It's funny how teams seem to always be good at what coaches emphasize.
Good offense has a cadence. Defense is about toughness and effort and fight. But offense is about feel. I always tell our players that basketball is like good conversation. There is a push and a pull, a make and a let. On defense you make things happen and on offense you let things happen. That's a dance. A complicated, beautiful dance when done well.
Someone in an interview asked me a couple of weeks ago how I had changed as a coach since high school. I said I hoped I had learned a lot and changed accordingly with each lesson. I told him I thought I still spent an amazing amount of time on fundamentals and that I still demanded the same immersion in the moment and attention to detail that I always had. I did say, however, that one change I had noticed in the way in which I approach the game is that I tend to be much more offensive-minded than I used to be. My high school teams were always known for their trademark defensive pressure. We really smothered people and took great, great pride in our defensive performance. While I still believe in the necessity of sound, aggressive defense, and believe whole-heartedly that this is the area from which a team's toughness stems, I think I spend more time thinking about offense than I used to. Perhaps that's because my assistant has such a great defensive mind. Or perhaps as I get older I find it more comfortable to "let" than to "make". I know that with every passing year (and the process of raising children, of course) I become more and more adept at letting things happen instead of forcing them to. I'm not sure about all that as I see myself as a definite work in progress, but I do love a good dance.
As I type this tonight, we are 8-0 (the best start in school history) and my rooftop is halfway illuminated with Christmas lights. I'm trying to ignore the obvious metaphor there. We have a home game tomorrow and while it's about 60 degrees out right now, I'm laying out my boots and gloves just in case.
-- Coach Coale