Coale: Sooners' Supporting Cast Ready To Take Next Step

Thursday, April 5th 2007, 6:20 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- As All-America center Courtney Paris heads out of the country after a tour of the awards circuit, Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale is already getting excited about the future.

The Sooners still have two more seasons left with the AP player of the year, and this offseason brings much greater change than the last.

While Paris will return with her streak of 61 double-doubles in tact, Oklahoma must replace the majority of its starting lineup around her. Six seniors depart, including starting lineup stalwarts Leah Rush, Erin Higgins and Chelsi Welch. Britney Brown and Kendra Moore, a duo that split most of the starts at point guard the past two seasons, are also moving on.

That leaves a gaping hole of more than 400 career starts and 4,600 points for Oklahoma, with last season's quintet of freshmen expected to pick up much of the slack.

"They are ready," Coale said by phone Thursday. "Were they quite ready to do big things for us in March and April this year? Not quite. But they're ready now to take the baton."

Coale said a major goal for this season was to prepare freshmen Amanda Thompson, Jenna Plumley, Abi Olajuwon, Nyeshia Stevenson and Rose Hammond so they'd be able to take on bigger roles next season.

In the meantime, she wants Thompson to heal from a shoulder injury, Plumley to work on ballhandling, Hammond to get more aggressive and Olajuwon and Stevenson to focus on fundamentals.

For Paris' twin, Ashley, the Sooners want her to "do more of what she's been doing already" after a strong finish to the season, Coale said.

And don't exclude Courtney Paris from the group that needs to improve. She averaged 23.3 points and 15.8 rebounds to rank in the top three in the nation in both categories, and was a consensus All-America selection.

She's also a finalist for the Wooden Award, another player of the year honor that will be given out on Saturday.

"She's got to get better receiving and working without the ball in her hand and finding ways to dominate the area of the floor which she can dominate," Coale said.

Unlike the other players, much of Paris' work will come under her own supervision. She'll leave Friday to begin a 12-day practice and exhibition tour in Italy with the U.S. national team. Another practice session is planned before the FIBA Americas Championship in September.

Coale said that will require discipline on Paris' part to work on the individual goals they set in a meeting just after the Sooners' season ended with a loss to Mississippi in the regional semifinals.

"There's nobody standing there saying, `You're not getting better at this, you're not getting better at that,"' Coale said. "They're building a team."

Coale said she thought Paris emerged from her sophomore season with "a directed hunger" about how to improve her game. Only halfway through Paris' college career, Coale said it's hard to stop and think about what she's done.

"I don't know that any of us will have perspective on what Courtney's career means for a couple more years now," Coale said. " ... I feel that she's still got so much more to do that it's hard to encapsule it in perspective."