Stellar season allows Ashley to step into spotlight

Gosh, maybe it's worse that Ashley Paris is so darn decent about it.

Perhaps it would be better if she kind of sneered at you and said, "I'm talking about Ashley. Only Ashley. You've heard of Ashley, right? You better have heard. Ashley has arrived. Ashley is here."

But, of course, Ashley is absolutely nothing like that. She's humble, gracious and very intelligent, traits that both Paris twins have in abundance…

Oh, darn it. I did it already. See, I was just going to just talk about Ashley Paris, the Oklahoma junior post who averages 12.0 points and 7.4 rebounds. I wanted to tell you about "AP5" and not immediately segue into "CP3," but it's just hard to do.

I went to talk with Ashley after a game recently and found myself asking, "When you're both on the court playing so well, does it feel like the really good old days in high school in California?"

Arrgggh!!! Why did I say that? Why not treat Ashley like she's just Ashley -- not part of a package deal?

But Ashley doesn't even blink. She just smiles.

"It is like back in high school, because I'm a key factor on our team now," Ashley said. "And I'm able to play a lot with my sister. Whereas the past two years, I've been kind of relieving her and just getting a small amount of time on court with her.

"It was hard those first two years, but I'm so grateful for it. I've learned so much, and I feel like it's put me in a position this year to play this way."

Surely, you know that the "sister" is twin Courtney Paris, who is averaging 17.4 points and 15.0 rebounds (and is nicknamed CP3, for her initials and the No. 3 on her jersey). In 2007, Courtney was Big 12 player of the year, the Associated Press' national player of the year and a Kodak All-American. She's the double-double queen, the rebounding machine, the re-writer of record books.

How, if you are Ashley, do you not feel like you're living in the shadow of an eclipse every day?

Well, for one thing, because nobody's happier about Courtney's many accolades than Ashley. And nobody respects Ashley as a player more than Courtney does. Besides, even though the 6-foot-4 CP3 is an inch taller than AP5, Ashley (who wears No. 5 on her jersey) can always claim she is boss. Because she is the older sister. By two minutes.

Sisterly love is one of life's greatest forces. And these two know that long after they are done on the hardwood, all that will matter is that they are still there for each other.

Plus, coach Sherri Coale and her staff always have stressed the importance of dealing with each sister individually.

Still, it takes a certain graceful acceptance for a sibling to accept not being "the superstar." Especially when that sibling is a twin.

I haven't done a scientific study of it, but I've observed twins in women's hoops with a particular fascination over the years. Because it is different than just the regular, non-twin sibling dynamic when sisters are on a team -- and that one is complex enough. The uncanny closeness of twins adds to it.

It has been the case for most of the twins on basketball teams that I've spent any time covering that one had a little more success than the other. And both of them have to find ways to deal with that. It's not just difficult for the twin who's less in the limelight.

This season, the sudden leadership deficit at Oklahoma -- which has no seniors after losing six off last year's team -- has worked out to the advantage of Ashley's development and Courtney's pride in her.

"It's been a lot tougher this year, trying to be the 'older guys' on the team and trying to get the others riled up," said Ashley, who averaged 6.6 points and 6.7 rebounds her first two seasons at OU. "It's been hard, but we have to do it to get to where we want to go."

Make note of the "we." So many leaders left that there was a void too big for just Courtney to try to fill. Both she and the Sooners as a whole really need Ashley more than ever.

"It goes back to that thing where we had all those seniors, and I got to go out there and just play," Courtney said of her freshman and sophomore seasons. "I now have to focus on a leadership role and other things. She's really picked up the slack and helped me, as far as production."

Coale seconded that, saying, "Ashley has become such a dominant scorer herself. They play differently, but the result is often the

Further, Coale is grateful for Ashley's assertiveness in rebounding those times that Courtney is out of the game. Ashley can carry the load there, too, as well as on offense.

The one-two punch that Ashley and Courtney can level against teams led Missouri coach Cindy Stein to joke after the teams' matchup recently, "When I heard that Shaq O'Neal was traded, I was hoping it was for the Paris twins."

Stein, who saw Ashley and Courtney combine for 44 points and 29 rebounds against the Tigers, added, "It's brutal. I mean, Ashley -- her improvement this year … they are probably the two toughest post players to guard."

Ashley has gotten used to being asked about her sister. It's neat to see her sister beam when the question is about Ashley.

"I think it's pretty cool how she's stepped up this year," Courtney said. "Her confidence is where it needs to be and at any time, she can be our go-to guy. She's really taken on that role.

"When I'm not in, it used to be we were worried about things happening in the post. Now, it's like, 'Ashley will deal with it.' Which is great for us."

Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.