The Foundation

Tyler Pigg
By Tyler Pigg
Director of Communications

Walk into the film room at the Oklahoma women's basketball's practice facility and a quote from Bernard De Chartes immediately jumps out to you.

It reads:

"We are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size."

For many, the shoulders that the program sits on are those of an undersized, under-recruited, scrappy 5-10 forward from Slayton, Texas named Phylesha Whaley.

Whaley was the first Sooner to accomplish plenty of feats at the University of Oklahoma, but it is her designation as Sherri Coale's first recruit that helped revitalize a program and set a foundation for years of future success.

As a high school senior, Whaley was looking for just a chance to play collegiate basketball. But suddenly in April 1996, enter the University of Oklahoma and its brand-new head coach, who had a master plan and was willing take to take a chance during the late stages of the recruiting cycle.

"When I came on my official visit, it was the first time I had ever flown on a plane," Whaley said as she described her first trip to Norman. "Coach Coale was phenomenal. My mom fell in love with her the minute she met her."

OU's coaching staff poured over Whaley's film from high school for hours upon hours, trying to find that one thing that would catch their eyes.

"There was something about her eyes that said she would run through a wall for us. At that time, there probably could be no greater trait."
- Sherri Coale

"(Coale Coale) wasn't sold on that game film at all," Whaley laughed. "But she took a chance."

"I probably had 40 people watch her video and I'm not exaggerating," Coale said. "We watched her state tournament film over and over again. We loved the kid and we were looking for something that would foreshadow what she could do on the floor and we just couldn't find it on that game tape.

It turned it out, they just needed to look into Whaley's eyes to see what they were getting.

"There was something about her eyes that said she would run through a wall for us," Coale described. "At that time, there probably could be no greater trait."

During Whaley's first three years, the Sooners began to land more high profile recruits, improve on the court and win more games each season. In 1999, the Sooners earned a bid to the WNIT. Progress began to build moment for what was next.

That season the Sooners started strong by winning their first 10 conference games behind Whaley.

The fearless senior was OU's go-to player, averaging 20.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game to earn the program's first-ever Big 12 Player of the Year honor. But the award and the accomplishments did not stop there.

In her final home game against Bedlam rival Oklahoma State, Whaley saved one of her most complete performances for the last time she would ever step on the court at Lloyd Noble Center.

Trailing at halftime, the Sooners put the ball in the hands of their senior leader like they hand done plenty of times over the last four seasons. She delivered, playing nearly all 40 minutes en route to scoring 22 points, pulling down seven rebounds and dishing five assists.

The win sealed OU's first-ever Big 12 title, but it was the celebration after the game that sticks with Whaley. To her surprise, every member on OU's roster dawned a shirt with Whaley's image on the back to honor her career during Senior Day festivities.

The first player in the Coale era to score over 2,000 points, the little-recruited, undersized post player got even better news at the end of the afternoon as she grasped the Big 12 Championship trophy – Whaley was named an All-American.

Whaley's stellar career helped build the foundation of OU's 19 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, a streak that still stands today. She helped the Sooners advance to the Sweet 16 in 2000 and finished her career third all-time in scoring at Oklahoma.

"Once you play at Oklahoma and you leave, you're still a part of the family. You truly have family for life."
- Phylesha Whaley

When Whaley returns to campus, every Oklahoma player knows her story. They all understand the impact and that they stand on the shoulders of a giant.

But for Phylesha Whaley, it is her time at the University of Oklahoma that still impacts her to this day.

"More than anything, once you play at Oklahoma and you leave, you're still a part of the family," Whaley said. "You truly have family for life. You can't buy that or get that from every school, but you can get it here at the University of Oklahoma."

Big 12 ChampionsBig 12 TrophySenior Day Shirts
(1) Whaley and her teammates celebrate OU's first Big 12 title; (2) the Sooners hoist the Big 12 trophy; (3) Whaley's teammates with a special tribute on Senior Day.