Time flies when you're having fun

Editor's note: In conjunction with SoonerSports.com, Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale and All-American sophomore Courtney Paris are sharing a blog with ESPN.com. Check back for regular entries in The Sooners' Latest.

By Courtney Paris
March 12, 2007

Same excuse for why I haven't blogged in almost forever -- time. It's so precious. There just never seems to be enough of it. And when you finally have enough, you waste it all thinking about all the things you need to use it on instead of getting started. Then finally, the moon awakens -- the day ends and you're back to pushing minutes, begging God for an extra hour in the day. But here in the middle of everything a half hour is available and I have time to share, so I will, simply because I like to.

I am proud of my team for not just sitting around and thinking about what we could do with our time, yet instead making the most of it.

We won our conference and tournament championship and I don't know six seniors who deserved it more. We've been through almost everything throughout this season. From being ranked in almost everyone's preseason top three and being asked about things like national championships to being thrown off every Final Four prediction list and deemed "unelite."

That's OK, though, because -- between being great and being just good -- I feel as though we are finding ourselves. The best thing about the whole process was that we didn't panic. We realized it wasn't too late to come together and reach our goals. We lost three out of four games in a week and a half span, yet we could still win our conference and do everything we had hoped for. A little bit lucky, a whole lot blessed! Thank goodness we embraced that time, and are choosing to make the most of it.

For most of this season, we just needed a place to start, and I think our last regular-season game against Baylor was a great place. We celebrated everything in that game.

It's amazing how much fun you can have in 40 minutes when everything you do is a reason to cheer. Leah dives out of bounds -- we go crazy. Amanda grabs another rebound -- we lose our minds. Erin hits a 3 from half court -- we get lightheaded in the celebration. Everything from getting a defensive touch to a nice pass or a screen -- we were up.

And at the end of that game cutting down nets and winning another regular-season conference title was great, but how much fun we had stuck out more. It reminded me of what set Oklahoma apart for me in the first place.

For me, one of the most defining moments in my recruiting process was watching that 2004 team play Texas in the Big 12 Conference tournament championship game. They celebrated everything. Absolutely made basketball look like the most fun game on earth. I could not wait to play the game they were playing.

Basketball had never looked so pleasing to me, and the thought of being apart of it made signing a national letter of intent a no-brainer. I think most times when you remember why you come, you remember what you have to offer and you find in doing so that you're most happy. I came to Oklahoma because I love this game. Coach tells me all the time "Courtney just smile -- enjoy it." Because it will end, whether it's a season or a career. Time does run out.

Out of all the things basketball is for me, the No. 1 thing is fun! I'd be lying if I said I weren't competitive and that I don't love to win. I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to win a national championship. I want to win so badly, the thought of it gets me through my worst days. But winning one would just be a cherry on top. Because the truth is everybody gets a sundae.

My ice cream is the people; without them there is no experience. Chocolate is what I learn. Nuts are my coaches (no pun intended). The whip cream is my teammates (my favorite part). And the cherry -- the championships -- makes a sundae look a whole lot better but the experience can be tasteful with or without.

I know this because I have watched mid-majors celebrate like crazy after winning a conference championship. A chance to go to the NCAA Tournament -- it's like their national championship.

Chances of them pulling a George Mason on the men's side and sneaking into the Final Four are slim, but the joy of just being placed in a bracket on selection day is inevitable.

So as everything gets mad this March, I will choose to be happy because I am doing the thing I love with people I love. It just doesn't get much better than that.

Good fellas
By Sherri Coale
Jan. 12, 2007

On Dec. 30, Courtney Paris scored 43 points and pulled down 25 rebounds in our win over New Mexico. As I exited the floor at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City after conducting postgame TV and radio interviews, the first person I saw was Jesse Greadington. "Shoulders back!" I said to him as we slapped a high five and exchanged a brief hug. "You throw your shoulders back, my friend!" His grin would have lit up a small city.

Jesse is a junior at the University of Oklahoma where he is a member of the JC Penney Leadership Class. He is a member of Crimson Club, a member of the Big 12 Governance of Black Student Congress, and he is a Conoco/Phillips Business School Scholar. Jesse and I worship at the same congregation in Norman, where he comes in every Sunday somewhere around the middle of the first verse of the second hymn. Jesse played high school basketball at Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa; he's 6 feet, 5 inches, strong as a horse, and he guards Courtney Paris about two days a week, whether he feels like it or not.

Jesse is one of our "fellas." He's what much of the basketball world refers to as a scout teamer. He's what the NCAA calls a male practice player. By definition that means he has paid for his own physical, he has registered with and been cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse (paid for that personally as well), he consistently passes a minimum of 12 hours per semester making him eligible for intercollegiate competition (though he can't compete), and he has filled out enough certification paperwork to fill up a small upright filing cabinet. He practices with us between and around classes. Mostly he guards, but sometimes we make him get guarded, too. For all of that we are allowed to tell him "thank you." They are a special breed, our fellas.

We currently have a crew of about seven who attend practice as their class schedules allow; for most that's two or three days per week at best. They are students at the University of Oklahoma who love to play ball. Some are really, really fast. Some are tall. Some were high school all-staters (shout out to Brenden) who could have played at a lot of places but chose to attend OU for academic reasons, leaving their competitive athletic careers behind. Some are just tough, well-coached high school athletes who won't ever get enough games regardless of the venue. Some want to coach and therefore use their practice time with us as "internships" and really lucrative networking. Others maybe weren't ever even all that good at the high school level, but they love to play, they will do whatever it is we ask of them, and they enjoy being a part of who we are. We take all kinds, provided they check their ego at the door, and they help us immeasurably.

They are not easy to find, these "fellas," and they are even more difficult to replace. When they go they leave a hole, because the time they spend with us matters and they become a part of the fabric of our team. We've even thought about creating a "Fellas Hall of Fame" to honor them and give ourselves reason to bring them back from time to time. It would give us an excuse to have a pick-up game of all pick-up games -- an enlargement of the heart opportunity for everyone who has ever been a gym rat (the people I am convinced the game of basketball was in fact created for, by the way).

We began this "male practice player" thing because we needed bigger, stronger, faster players to compete against in practice so that we might be able to simulate Texas or Tennessee or Connecticut. Back in the day, our first team couldn't simulate most of our opponents, much less our backups! So we improved by cutting our teeth daily against the fellas' skill and athleticism. Then after awhile, it became something else. It became a thing that gave us depth -- and legitimacy -- on a number of levels. These guys who practiced, they went to class and told their friends. Word got out. The girls were pretty good. The fellas would road trip to games and take their buddies with them. They'd skip open gym at the Huff when we played in Norman, and slowly but surely women's basketball games became the place to be if you loved ball. Our fellas started all that. And they continue to pass it on.

Critics are circling their wagons these days, saying the use of male practice players takes opportunities away from women. Ask my women who practice every day; they will, to a player, disagree. Our fellas guard us so that we can compete as one. Our fellas run our opponents' stuff so that we can all get repetitions on how we wish to defend. Our fellas play post defense so that Courtney doesn't destroy Leah's body before conference play even begins. Our fellas go live against our backups when our bench needs the reps and our starters need fresh legs. Our fellas run transition so that Kendra and Britney gain confidence together instead of at the expense of one another. Ask my guys (those are my scholarship female student-athletes, by the way) how they feel about so called "opportunities lost" during practice time. They thank our fellas before they leave the gym every day. They so "get" this getting good thing.

When Jesse Greadington is 30, he will have a lot of cool stuff to tell his friends. He is as involved of a college student in the whole experience of campus life as any kid I have ever known. Through his involvement with student government, he has met dignitaries from all states and countries. He will one day be able to tell his kids that he went to class with Adrian Peterson. He will be able to say that one semester he went to France to study abroad. He will also get to say that he helped make Courtney Paris one of, if not the greatest women's basketball players ever to play the game. And truthfully, whether or not he ever tells anyone will be immaterial. The look on his face as he stood courtside at the Cox Center said it all. I won't ever forget his expression as he stood there, hands in his pockets, shaking his head slightly from side to side as if to say, "Wow. We all just got to witness something pretty spectacular." He wasn't surprised. He knew what she could do. No one else knew. Not the way he did anyway. And no one in that building appreciated her performance any more than he did, I promise you.

It's almost like they're teammates, Courtney and Jesse. And that's the best part of it all. It's genderless! In our little world of women's basketball we have finally figured it out. We are athletes. We are a team getting as good as we can get using every available whetstone we can find.

In both of my children's nursery rooms was the following framed quote:

"Come to the edge," He said. They said, "We are afraid." "Come to the edge," He said. They came. He pushed them … and they flew." ~ Guillaume Apollinaire

I put it there to remind me of my charge. I think of it now because I believe that the very marrow of Title IX is opportunity. Opportunity to participate, opportunity to compete, opportunity to excel. I don't think the legislation was created to monitor who pushes us. I think it was created so that we could get a chance to fly.

Aiming at April …

• Special thanks to all our fellas … we take you with us as we go.

For previous entries, visit The Sooners' Latest archive. For more on Coale, who has a master's degree in education and was a high school English teacher from 1989 to 1996, and Paris, visit the Sooner Blog Spot.