Uncommon Focus

Athletics Communications
By Athletics Communications
University of Oklahoma

"It’s never just about what you do. Players have to work on weaknesses, and they have to build on strengths, but just doing the right drills and hitting the right reps is not enough. What separates the extraordinary from the rest of the pack is how they do what they do. They have an uncommon focus when they work. It’s about where their attention is placed, it’s about where their awareness lies...what those bound for greatness see and feel separates them from everybody else."

- Head Coach Sherri Coale 

A renewed focus.

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The 2014-15 basketball season ended a month ago, and the Sooners are already back on the grind of offseason, but this year there’s a twist.

Head Coach Sherri Coale and her staff have created an offseason workout program that mixes basketball, communication and personality. Of course Coale’s Sooners are on the hardwood most of the week using the spring to improve on their skills, but they’ve also been on the volleyball court, the kickball field and the football field, competing in what they have deemed as “The X-Games.” And they’ve had a blast.

“These are the most interesting offseason workouts so far since I’ve been here,” senior-to-be Kaylon Williams explained. “Every time it’s different and there’s a focus for every post season workout, but this one is a little different with the X-Games, because it was something we were able to do showing our personality, and that’s so much fun because we have a lot of personality on this team. Sometimes you get so buckled down in basketball thinking, ‘I want to do this right. I want to get better.’ It’s such a direct focus on one thing and you forget to have fun with it.”

Gabbi Ortiz, who recently finished a stellar freshman campaign, is enduring her first offseason with the Sooners and said it is unlike anything she had done before.

“It’s a lot different because you’re having so much fun and you’re communicating with each other so that’s what you’re thinking about,” Ortiz said. “You’re running but it’s not just a punishment run. We do get a good exercise but we get to have fun while we do it.”

The Sooners have also been partaking in a once-a-week yoga class, usually held on Wednesday afternoons.

While Ortiz had never taken a yoga class and said it was, “a workout for sure,” Williams described it as the best part of her week.

“I look forward to Wednesdays because that’s when we do our yoga workouts and I love it. The things our instructor had us do were really good because we were tight in our hips and we were lifting at the same time and we came in kind of sore. So we were able to get stretched out and work on the center of our body and our breathing. We got some tips for anxiety and other things.”

But its not all fun and games for the Sooners this offseason. The team plays pick-up games at least three times a week, focusing on defense and being competitive against each other. Each student-athlete then meets with an assistant coach once a week for a one-on-one individual workout that focuses on her weakness from last season. Ortiz has been using the resources given to her at OU to her advantage.

“We have individual workouts that we do once a week, so it’s just us one-on-one with our assistant coach. Those are really good,” Ortiz said. “I’ve also been in here training with Buddy (Hield) and Isaiah (Cousins) once or twice, and I’m going to keep doing that. Coach Coale has given me specific things to work on, and I’m really working on finishing and getting to the rim, just my weaknesses that I didn’t do so well on last season. I’m trying to focus on those things right now.”

Outside of individual workouts, the Sooners are aiming toward improving their defensive performance for next season. The squad is taking a step back and reconstructing the way it plays defense through relearning and improving techniques. Williams said that even though she is a senior, she has still learned new traits of the defensive game.

“We are trying to defend people without fouling. We were 330th in the country in giving up fouls. There were only 10 teams that didn’t foul more than we did. That’s not very good, so defense is a really big key for us this offseason,” Williams said. “We’re working on closing out too. I’ve done close-outs before, and I’m still learning as far as throwing my weight back or making sure my hands stay high and dig steps. We’re really working on techniques and trying to focus on the defensive end because defense can create some offense for us too.”

Whether it be in the game they’ve played their entire lives, or the X-Games they have learned this offseason, there’s a new focus for Coale’s Sooners. A focus that illuminates hard work, communication and personality. A focus that will help the Sooners obtain the ultimate goal in 2016.

“We’re really going hard in all of these games and it gets pretty competitive,” Ortiz said. “These games are showing us how much we need to improve on communication because we have struggled some throughout the offseason with that. All of these games require thinking and mental toughness, and I think what the coaches have designed for us is really preparing us for next season.”

Making the grade.     

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For the majority of academic awards out there - CoSIDA, Big 12, NCAA, etc. - student-athletes need to have reached sophomore standing to be recognized. So this year, the freshman trio of Gabbi Ortiz, Vionise Pierre-Louis and McKenna Treece weren't eligible for the top academic awards...but we are pretty sure, come next year, they will be. Ortiz, Pierre-Louis and Treece each finished the fall academic semester with 4.00 GPA's. With her 2014 summer semester, Ortiz also has earned an A in each class she has taken at Oklahoma. 

Preparing for finals.

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The 2014-15 academic year is quickly coming to a close. The FOCUS for the Sooners now is preparing for finals. We reached out to a few players - redshirt junior Kaylon Williams, junior Nicole Kornet and freshman Vionise Pierre-Louis - to to see how they gear up for finals week.

1. Favorite place to study for finals?

Nicole Kornet (NK): Most answer this question and answer the typical, cliche "Great Red Reading Room" in the library. But I, Nicole Elizabeth Kornet, prefer the second floor of the library-- the Disneyland of Bizzell Memorial- as I like to call it. It is filled with cool chairs, bright lights, individualized study rooms, and of course a Starbucks for the caffeine enthusiasts such as myself.

Vionise Pierre-Louis (VPL): My favorite place to study is in the library, that’s if I could find a spot. Why? Because it is quiet and it gives me motivation to stay focused. Everyone else is working hard so it forces you to remain focus. Or I like to study in the privacy of my own room. I can walk around, blast my music when it's needed, take snack breaks whenever necessary, just more leeway in general.  

Kaylon Williams (KW): My favorite place to study is in the Bizzel Library because it's really peaceful and kind of cool. Plus, I get to meet all kinds of cool people there. 

2. Must-need essentials for studying?

NK:  I'm a nerd. Therefore I prefer utter silence. And an Oreo or two.

VPL: Music or silence depending on what topic I’m studying, and I must have lots of water. 

KW: Must needs for finals: 'crisp' M&M's for reading. Gotta have something help me stay on track. Two unsharpened pencils for tapping or pretending to play drum on my study break. Headphones to jam out to good study music for when I walk around and think. 

3. Best advice/tip you received for studying for finals?

NK: Study.

VPL: Best advice I received was from my high school teacher. She told me 'do not study the material in forms of memorization, study the material over the course by relating them to each other and connecting them to stories, life, or music'. 

KW: The best advice I received has been that 'the world won't end if you can't remember all the information. Pray. Prepare. Power through". 

4. Vionise, what advice have your teammates given you in how to prepare for finals or how to balance school and basketball?

VPL: Focus on what you are doing at the moment. I was told by several teammates if I’m studying, do just that, study. If I’m practicing on post moves, focus on just that.

“To a mind that is still the whole universe surrenders” -Lao Tzu

4. Nicole and Kaylon, did you get advice or tips from former teammates when you were just starting college that helped you prepare for finals?

NK: "Read the book, Nicole." Sounds like a unidentified, foreign species, huh? A book??? Absurd! But seriously, if you actually READ the book, guaranteed A. Guaranteed. (Only if you use my other advise too-- study).

KW: Yes. The advice I received was that study groups are the best, getting with people who are studying the same material as you is a plus. One, because it helps to have other people quiz you and two, you make friends in the process. Also knowing someone else is struggling on the same things as you helps take a little stress off because you know your not alone.

5. What is the first thing you will do when your have finished all your finals?

NK: Hop on a flight to the homeland. Currently located in Nashville, Tenn. 

VPL: Sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep, go to church and thank God that it is over, then sleep some more. On a more serious note, I will hang out with my teammates and get to know them outside of basketball and class. Also, hand with other people around campus that I do not typically get to interact with for more than five minutes without being in a rush to go somewhere. It is fun meeting new people, making them laugh and learning something new. 

KW: ICE CREAM and go to the nail shop!!! WhooooHooo! 

OU honors its own.

The University of Oklahoma touted its academic success of its student-athletes at the annual Max Weitzenhoffer Scholar-Athlete Breakfast, April 14.

Athletic Director’s Leadership Award - Kaylon Williams

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Each year this award, chosen by athletic director Joe Castiglione, is given to student-athletes who demonstrate extraordinary leadership while representing OU and their team. Leadership qualities include considered in this award include mental toughness, ability to work with others, giving respect and gaining the respect of others and integrity and accountability.

Athletics Council Achievement Award - Sharane Campbell-Olds

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Honors student-athletes who have overcome great personal, academic, or emotional odds to achieve academic and athletic success. They have persevered to overcome difficult situations.

Jay Myers Award - Gabbi Ortiz

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Honors student-athletes who have overcome great personal, academic, or emotional odds to achieve academic and athletic success. They have persevered to overcome difficult situations.