NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma women's basketball head coach Sherri Coale, senior Britney Brown, senior Leah Rush and sophomore Courtney Paris particpated in Big 12 Media Day at the COX Convention Center in Oklahoma City on Wednesday morning. Below is a transcript from Coach Coale's press conference.
MODERATOR PETER IRWIN: Coach Coale, we are glad to have you here from the University of Oklahoma. If you would like to make some opening comments and take questions.
COACH COALE: I am excited to be here today to formally kick off the Big 12 season with Media Day. I am glad we could find a room that was large enough for all of us. This is nice and intimate.
I am absolutely excited about the tournament, being in Oklahoma City, obviously, and gathering here today for Media Day.
It is awesome for our city and I know the city is excited about hosting the event and they are very well prepared to do so. And I like it because I actually get a day off. I don't have to travel this afternoon. With that being said, let's get after it.
Q. Yes. It was a great year last year. All your starters are back. Can you talk about the expectations of your team this year to do us well and you have a great recruiting class even on top of that. So do you mind all these expectations? Do you like them or how do you feel about that?
COACH COALE: Absolutely I like them. I would much rather see us listed in the top five in a preseason poll than to be searching for our name in the list that follows at the end of the 25. It is a lot better deal to have high expectations. We knew that coming in. You go 19 0 in league and you return five starters. We knew what the expectations would be and yet our kids understand you have to play the games. You have to show up and compete every night.
And what we did in Big 12 conference last year was not easy and a lot of things happened our way and we understand that. We have to continue to get better every day. And to focus on the task at hand and adding five new guys is no easy thing either, no matter how talented they are. We lost two incredible seniors who are were very much a part of how good we were together last year. When you lose that leadership, you have to make a transition in leadership. There are always new challenges presented. We are embracing these expectations and we can't wait to get started and see what happens.
Q. Coach Coale talk about the predicted strength of the Big 12. You are favored, Baylor is two years removed from a national championship and they are picked fourth. You will have a real dogfight up near the top.
COACH COALE: Big 12 conference is always incredibly competitive. As we went into the NCAA tournament last year and we are talking about seeding and selection and all those things that people talk about around the first of March, we are looking back going we won 16 games in league play and won the tournament. We look at each other as coaches and say, how do we do that? Look how good Baylor is, Texas A&M is and Iowa State, you go down the list. It is no different this years. The players have changed. Some of the superstars may be a little different. But there was a lot of young talent in the league last year, that has more experience and there is a lot of new talent this year. So it should be an exciting season.
Q. Sherri, Courtney was almost unstoppable at times last year. What in the world can she improve on?
COACH COALE: I wish I had a dollar for every time anybody asked me that. I would buy so many shoes it is not even funny. What can Courtney improve on. A myriad of things. As coaches we pick apart the game. She got 20 rebounds last year and I would be on her in the locker room for not blocking out. There are all kinds of little things. You can't play basketball perfectly. While she does a lot of really dominant things, some days she does things in practice and in games where I shake my head and say it is good to be me today. She is on my team. She is a remarkable athlete.
There are still a million mistakes made on the trip down the floor. Where you will see Courtney improve, she gets better in a myriad of areas. You won't go, Oh my gosh, suddenly she has some big perimeter game. That won't be the deal. You will see she goes left as easily and fluidly as she goes right. You will see she positions herself on a lackadaisical defender, a little quicker or sharper than she did the year before. You will see her block out a little bit more, I hope. And you will see her make a few more free throws, I hope, and be a better help defender.
You can go down the list of all the things that are important for a team to be successful on both sides of the ball.
Q. Hey, Sherri. Couple things, first, you sort do you see any similarity between 2001 and 2002 where you had a team that was good enough to make a Final 4 run, had a disappointed Sweet 16 loss, came back and made the Final 4. We can talk about that. Second, it is a little ways down the line, but you will have one of the other best centers in Jessica Davenport coming in. Have you thought about that matchup from a standpoint of having two of the best centers in the country in Norman in December?
COACH COALE: I will start with the first one, Michelle. There are a lot of similarities between this year's team and the team that went to the championship in 2002. I think the greatest similarity is probably how the previous season ended as you alluded to. We had a very disappointing loss against Washington the year before in San Antonio. Disappointed last year in San Antonio by a very good Stanford team. We talked about that in the locker room, Michelle, after that game. We talked about the necessity of staying hungry and making sure that you don't feel this way again next year and knowing that no matter how well you may be playing, the road can fallout from underneath you in a heartbeat.
The sad part, those two seniors, Lauren and Becky, don't have another shot, but everybody else in the locker room did. That has buoyed us throughout the summer. If have you a tendency to go through the motions, you remind yourself it can stop in a heartbeat. I have six more guys that have a shot. That was the sense of urgency that propelled that team in 2002, six seniors who knew they had a shot to come to Oklahoma to do what they needed to do.
This class feels that sense urgency in a similar way. Your question about Jessica Davenport is more a question about Ohio State. We went there last year and competed in the ESPN big Monday game and really outplayed them and they scored on the final shot and they won. And it was a great, great game for women's basketball and it was a fantastic game for Oklahoma basketball because we figured some things out there.
And so the only way we really circled that one on our calendar is just we have another shot at them and they are at our place and we want to make sure we finished what we started.
Q. Talk about the rest of the conference and who the other top teams look like to you.
COACH COALE: I'm sorry. I couldn't understand you.
Q. Could you talk about the rest of the conference and who looks like top teams to you .
COACH COALE: Absolutely. Texas A&M I think is really talented. Gary has done a tremendous job of getting a lot of kids in there who can play the way he wants to play. They will get after you and pressure you for 40 minutes and I think they will be very, very dangerous, not just at home, but on the road as well. I think Texas is probably not getting enough consideration. They are a very, very talented and they weren't that far away last year, even though there were some games that the score indicated they were that far away, they weren't. They were talented and young. They had key injuries. Those guys are back and healthy. You mix those guys together and add Brittainey Raven to the group, that squad is pretty good.
Baylor with the addition of Bernice, obviously they will be talented. I never count Iowa State out. Bill Fennelly can coach. I never count them out. I think it will be a very, very tough conference slate.
Q. Sherri, how soon do you expect the freshmen to be contributing on this team?
COACH COALE: Oh, I don't know, Lynn. First half of practice yesterday I might have said November. The second half of practice, 2010 maybe. I don't know. They just had so much to learn. I tell you what, I love this freshmen class. We have five and I just love them because they are passionate about playing. It doesn't matter if you are asking them to run a drill, if they are getting to play live in a scrimmage situation, if you are teaching them specific things that are very hard to learn about offense, they just love ball. It has been neat because they have a collective confidence that I think is really rare and very, very special in that I can correct them and correct them and correct them, and we do, and they still believe that they can play and they can beat anybody. And I love that sort of inter resilience, if you will. They know they have a lot to learn, but they also know they are very capable. And they have been an absolute hoot to coach for the first five days. I don't know. I don't know, it may be a different one at a different time depending on what we need because all five of them are so different and can do different things. We will wait and see. Collectively they have a chance to be a real special group.
Q. Can you sort of talk just on a national basis obviously Maryland was a little bit the surprise winner with a lot of young kids following Baylor which surprised a lot of people. Do you sense even this year there might be even more potential national championship contenders?
COACH COALE: Yes. I think parity is greater than its ever been. That sounds so coach speak. But the last three or four years I think it has escalated steadily. I think there are more teams that have a chance to win a championship and obviously Tennessee and Connecticut are still in that mix.
But there are just a couple of a handful of people who are every bit as talented and every bit as likely to get it done. I think when one team does I think what Baylor did is significant, in that it sort of lifted the ceiling for everyone, there is no entitlement in the sport. There is no entitlement in women's basketball. If you do the right things and you compete and you have a few breaks along the way, really, really special things can happen.
And Maryland proved that last year. A very young team and I would say there might be as many as 10 or 12 that are seriously in that hunt on this side of it. You start playing games and that may change dramatically. People may move into that group that we are not thinking of right now. People that are in that group might move out of it. Right now I think there are several teams that have a legitimate shot.
Q. Sherri, will you talk about Leah's role? She probably will play in the same or similar role for two straight years. Can you talk about what you expect from her this year.
COACH COALE: Leah Rush is a basketball player. If you ask me what her position is, I couldn't really tell you. She is just a basketball player. She can score. She can defend. She can rebound. She will take all the tough effort plays. There is no doubt about that. I think she is more comfortable this year than she was last year moving away from the basket. I don't think she was real comfortable playing at the block when we brought her in, but it is what we had to do in order to have a chance to be successful. We were undersized and we needed her presence there. She never blinked and went right to playing a five as an undersized post player and competed and got comfortable at it.
And we said now come out here and do this for a while. I think for a little while last year she pressed and tried too hard and couldn't find where her niche was within what we were trying to do. I think as the season went on, she got better and better and better, as was evidenced by her play in the NCAA tournament. But there is a spring to her step and a confidence and a sense of security and calmness, if you will, about her game right now. She knows exactly how she can score, where she can score from and she is doing that very well right now.
Q. Sherri, what is it about this area that leads you to believe that it will be a successful host for the conference tournament?
COACH COALE: Oh, my goodness. I think the first thing I think of is a very selfish thing, but we have sold almost 8,000 season tickets. Basketball is a pretty big deal in this area right now. I think that the Hornets being here in Oklahoma City has increased basketball awareness, maybe changed a lot of people who were just athletic fans but maybe not basketball fans. They have learned a little bit more about the sport and maybe gotten attached to it a little bit.
I also think that you look at the all college tournament that's held here every year and the phenomenal attendance that shows up for the men's games. There are lots of factors. The biggest one being that people in Oklahoma love sports. They absolutely love sports. And Bricktown has become an incredible venue for all kinds of things from concerts to sporting events. And I think that not only the local people, local people will show up in droves, but I also think the fans that come in will have a tremendous experience in this venue.
PETER IRWIN: This will be the final question for Coach Coale.
COACH COALE: We're going to end with Clay? I will take a deep breath for this.
Q. Along the same lines from this comparison from the Final 4 season to this season, what I remember about that season was you guys not being afraid to talk about it, not being afraid to say yes, this is where we want to go. You probably try to keep them in line with the "one game at a time" as the season went on. But nonetheless as we talked about the Final 4 a lot, where are you guys with that right now? Is it out there in front? Is it the first things on your mind or what?
COACH COALE: Well, absolutely. Clay, I just have a bone deep belief if you want to do something, you better think about it, read about it, remind yourself about it every single day. And I don't want our players or our coaching staff to put themselves in a position where what they think about and what they read about and what they spend their time on every single day is not what they talk about with you guys. We want to win a national championship. That is the goal.
And we understand that you don't have a chance to win a national championship if you don't take care of your business. Along the way, a part of that, a very important part that have is winning the Big 12 title because that puts you in a position to have a better chance throughout the NCAA tournament. There are lots of things that come before that. We will not make any bones about where we are trying to go. That's the deal.