Don't turn that dial

Editor's note: Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale will share a diary with ESPN.com throughout the season for the fourth consecutive year.

Dec. 10, 2004

All my closest friends know just what to do in times like these: e-mail. It's safer. My buddies don't call -- not many of them anyway, but they all check in. They read the box scores. They ache for me. They want me to know they are with me.

But they don't want to talk. It wouldn't be much fun for them and they're scared. Rightly so ... I don't lose well. And I hide my feelings even worse. So they keep a wise distance, send me good vibes, and pray for better times.

My car has satellite radio. This is a new thing for me. And I'm not so sure it's good. It seems no matter where I'm going, I'm always messing with the radio. I have approximately 5,000 options now -- instead of the 5 stations in Oklahoma City that I used to race around between.

Now, no matter how much I might like any given song that's playing, I just can't help fighting the notion that perhaps a better one is playing on the next stop. And so I sing the chorus of a familiar country tune before zipping over to check on 80s rock. After about four bars of my high school prom music, I shuffle on to hear the closing stanza of some random tune on the Nashville station before flying forward to a local gig that plays all Christmas music in December. And even though I love Amy Grant singing "Silver Bells", I can't make myself stay there for fear of missing out on something fabulous with one more punch! I don't think I've heard a complete song -- start to finish -- since I got this thing.

It reminds me of how I think my players sometimes feel on offense. "I could do this or I could go here, but this might be better, and what if I went over there ..." and the manifestation of that looks like the deer that cross my road at dawn. They go nowhere.

I drove upon some this morning. They stutter and stare and freeze in the middle of the street, looking nothing like the incredibly smart, graceful creatures that they are. Bad news is, if the driver of the car isn't paying close attention, they won't live to cross the street (or to let my husband shoot at them from a tree)! They just need to go. They need to do what they do. Ten more yards and they might be in a beautiful valley far away from the cars and safe from even the snipers dressed like trees. But I'm one to be talking ... I just missed my favorite song three times.

Basketball is a funny, funny game. So much of how it looks and how it feels hinges upon the regularity with which the little orange ball goes in the big round basket. Lots of other things determine whether you win, but swishes make you feel good. And clanging it off of the rim and the side of the backboard and the post defender's armpit makes you feel bad. One giveth juice; the other taketh it away.

But the absolute worst part of missing shots is what it can do to the rest of your game. It can tighten the string making you a hesitant passer; it can turn your fingers into thumbs making you a fumbling dribbler; it can make you a rebounding voyeur and a defensive sloth. Because missing gets in your head. It awakens the demons that are just dying to have a conversation in your cerebellum while you try to decide whether to screen or to cut. It attacks the way you feel about yourself as a player. A good shooter missing shots is like a pretty girl having a bad hair day -- you know she's pretty but you just can't quite get past that hair. And she can't get past it, either. Therein lies the problem. Swagger trumps bad hair, but only if you let it. We have good shooters. We're all about salvaging swagger right now.

A big day for Di
This past week, my staff and I had the privilege of traveling to St. Louis, Mo., to share in Dionnah Jackson Day at Parkway West High School. What a bright spot in the middle of an otherwise dismal week! Di's high school retired her baby blue and red No. 35 -- no one will ever wear that jersey number again. It was the first ever for Parkway West.

Tommie Rowe, Di's high school assistant coach and Parkway's current head coach, pulled the whole event together. From the marquee out front to the balloons lining the gym lobby to the pictures of Di in her Oklahoma finery that peppered every door and every wall, all details were covered. We had dinner in the home economics room and listened to Di's family tell story after story as we laughed until we cried over and over again. We met her first grade teacher, her athletic director, her AAU coach, her best friend's mother, her trainer, her cousin, her aunt .... The people there were all so very proud of her. They were fighting us for bragging rights, though, I promise you. Coaching has given me many gifts. One of the greatest has been watching Di become. She must have thanked my assistants and I 50 times for taking the time to travel with her and be a part of her night. In the immortal words of Ronnie Milsap, "We wouldn't have missed it for the world."

Call me crazy ...
As I write this entry our team is 4-3. Call me crazy but I still think we're going to be very good. I like a lot of what we do and can see the root of the things that I don't like, which means they are correctable. We've struggled like madmen from the 3-point line and the free-throw line ... and the block, for that matter! But in spite of it all, we've been in the game in each of our three losses and we could have won any of them had we made some plays down the stretch.

We get better every day defensively, our rebounding consciousness is improving, and our shot selection continues to be very, very good. We're playing hard. We're playing together. And occasionally we get glimpses -- just a play here or there -- of how good we could be. November and December are about discovering your identity as a basketball team. The rest of the season is about being true to it. It's not about who we'd like to be or who we thought we'd be; it's about finding out who we are and then making a commitment to be absolutely excellent at it. The picture is taking shape, and despite some early setbacks, I really like what I see.

I tried an experiment with myself on the way home from shootaround today. I left the car radio alone. Didn't touch it for the whole 12-mile trek from the gym to my house. Some obscure song was on when I backed out of the parking lot and then as I turned onto 12th street a ridiculous Donna Summer disco song bounced out of my speakers, prompting me to consider power off as an option.

But I hung on. "I can do anything for 12 miles," I kept telling myself. "It's just twelve miles." And sure enough, just when I thought I might lose my mind or perhaps purposefully drive my car directly into a ditch, the heavens opened up and "Simply the Best" wafted into my world through my satellite radio. Tina Turner's hit was the song from our 1996 Norman High School State Championship highlight video. It's one of those songs that stop time. As I drove toward my house, memories of a spunky bunch of talented high school girls washed over me. And I felt for a moment like I did then, when the world was right and we could do no wrong.

I don't think about that song ever. But I never hear that song that I don't think about that year, that season, those kids, our dream, and the seamless, magical performance of our team at the perfect place in time. That's what music does. It can take you from wherever you are to almost anywhere you want to go. And this morning on my way home I was granted a free vacation to one of my favorite spots, courtesy of my Godforsaken satellite radio. Just think what I would have missed had I been punching buttons! My new toy reminded me that there's something to be said for hanging on, for enduring. You never know how good it might get just around the bend.

For more on coach Coale and the Sooners, visit Oklahoma's official athletic site.