NORMAN, Okla. – Being picked as the preseason favorite to win the Big 12 Conference regular-season title brings a smile to Sherri Coale’s face. But her smile widens and brightens whe asked about her 18th OU team.
“I love this team,” she said. “I love the ‘air’ in the gym. There’s just enough ‘We’ve done this and it’s hard to do.’ Counter balanced by the freshmen ‘Oh, my gosh, this is the greatest thing in the world, playing basketball at OU.’ You put all that in a pot and stir it up, it’s a nice blend.”
Playing with a roster decimated with injuries – volunteers from the volleyball team helped fill out in practice – the Sooners finished 24-11 overall and 11-7 in the Big 12. OU’s season ended in the Sweet 16 and even that loss to Tennessee included an injury as point guard Morgan Hook suffered a concussion late in the first half.
“Last year, we basically had six players most of the season and it was tough in practice,” said Hook, who has 345 assists in her career. “Sometimes during practices now, we’re doing shooting drills and it’s tough get finished because so many players are shooting the balls keep bouncing around and knock your shots out.
“It’s also exciting to see the blend of veteran plays with the newbies.”
Hook, Portia Durrett, Nicole Griffin and Aaryn Ellenberg are the four seniors on the roster. Ellenberg’s 1,748 points are seventh all-time at Oklahoma and with 284 3-pointers she is in range of setting the NCAA Division I career record. Ellenberg is the Big 12’s top returning scorer.
“People know me for scoring but I want to be a better all-around player, particularly on defense,” said Ellenberg, who averaged 18.7 points per game and made 41.4 percent of her 3-pointers last season.
Over the summer, Coale was the coach on the USA Basketball gold medal-winning team in the World University Games. Ellenberg was a member of that team, as was Baylor’s Odyssey Sims.
“Being exposed to that competition and some different voices from my assistant coaches challenged her,” Coale said. “She realizes this is her last shot and she wants to be an All-American. I think she’ll be a little more explosive and a little more polished.”
This week in practice, the Sooners are going through INDOC - short for indoctrination. INDOC is about offense and focusing Coale’s fundamentals and terminology. But the offense came after a week of “Camp Guard ‘Em” a week of working on the defensive
“ ‘Camp Guard ‘Em’ is learning defense,” redshirt freshman guard Maddie Manning said. “It’s just building day by day. We start out with fundamental and simple defensive transition and each day we’ll build on it. We stress communication a lot.”
Manning along with Kaylon Williams missed last season with knee injuries. They’re back and healthy which along with an outstanding class of freshmen give Coale plenty of options. With Hook and Ellenberg in the back court and the 6-6 Nelson in the middle, the Sooners have three veteran starters returning.
Senior Portia Durrett, junior Sharane Campbell and sophomore Nicole Kornett saw plenty of playing time last season. Freshman guard Gioya Carter, a 5-9 freshman guard, has impressed Coale with how she is adapting to the OU system and with her ability.
“There’s a shared ownership with this team I really like,” Coale said. “I’ve got four seniors who took the baton from last year’s seniors and they’re ready to show the young players how it’s done.”