Raising No. 3

John Rohde
By John Rohde
SoonerSports.com Contributor

Courtney Paris left Oklahoma having established 20 NCAA Division I records, plus 57 Big 12 Conference and 69 school records, many of which will never be broken.

She became the first-ever, four-time Associated Press and USBWA All-American in women’s college basketball history, a feat that mathematically will never be beaten. Other records also seem unbeatable, most notably her NCAA record 112 consecutive double-doubles.

This standard for never-ending double-digits in scoring and rebounding began during a routine meeting Paris had with Sooners coach Sherri Coale.

“Coach had this goal for me to get at least 10 rebounds and 10 points every game,” Paris recalled. “She said, ‘I think you should get at least 10 points and 10 rebounds every game. And if you don’t, I think we both are doing something wrong.’ I took that literally. I thought. ‘That’s my job, to get 10 points and 10 rebounds every game.’ ”

Coale recalls the meeting well and said she believes Paris was thinking the exact same thing herself, but never expressed it. “She had high expectations for herself and I think it was right in line with what she expected, whether she said it out loud or not,” Coale said. “I just felt like that was her baseline of expectation.”

Mission accomplished, and then some.

Paris remains the OU's all-time leading scorer (2,729) and rebounder (2,034) and became the first NCAA player – regardless of gender or division – to accumulate 2,500 career points and 2,000 career rebounds. Along the way, she was named 2007 AP National Player of the Year as a sophomore, was a four-time Naismith and Wooden Award finalist, became three-time Big 12 Player of the Year (2007-09), twice was chosen Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year (2007-08), was Big 12 Freshman of the Year (2006) and the 2009 SENIOR Class Award winner.

“It means a lot to me that she said that. But it wasn’t just me who got us there. Maybe I was just the missing piece that helped get us get there. It was all of us.”
— Courtney Paris

These are among the many reasons why Paris will have her No. 3 jersey honored at halftime of the Sooners’ season opener against Belmont at 7 p.m. on Friday in the Lloyd Noble Center. Paris will become only the second OU women’s player to be so honored, joining Stacey Dales, whose No. 21 jersey debuted in the rafters on Nov. 21, 2014.

Paris (2006-09) and Dales (1998-2002) were dominant in their own ways, but they came at different stages in the Coale era. Longtime OU assistant Jan Ross coached Paris and Dales and aptly described their contributions as follows: “Stacey brought us out of the grave. Courtney took us to the top.”

Told Ross’ remark, Paris whispered, “It means a lot to me that she said that. But it wasn’t just me who got us there. Maybe I was just the missing piece that helped get us get there. It was all of us.”

Alongside was Courtney’s twin sister, Ashley. Together they were the most sought-after twins in the history of women’s basketball. Both All-Americans at Millennium High School in Piedmont, Calif., their five finalists were UConn, Syracuse, UCLA, Texas and OU.

“With twins, there’s a lot to think about. So we took our time,” Courtney said of the lengthy and highly contested recruiting process. “Oklahoma was a good fit for both of us.”

Former Sooners assistant coach Stacy Hansmeyer, a standout from Norman High School who played at UConn, primarily recruited Courtney while Ross recruited Ashley. “They both were just amazing,” Ross said. “We recruited them separately, just at the same place. They were very different in the way they played, so I think it helped us.”

Courtney said, “Stacy is still one of my favorite people. She did a really, really great job recruiting me. Their recruiting stood out. Oklahoma was a place we could connect with outside of basketball as well.”

The twins’ ability to be themselves is what drew them both to OU.

“When I came to school I didn’t think of awards or anything like that. I just wanted to win.”
— Courtney Paris

“Everybody talks about how people recruited us, but we also did our homework in the recruiting process,” Courtney explained. “I remember watching them (the Sooners) on TV and the way they played my junior year in high school, their energy and how they were on the court. I thought, ‘Man, those are the kind of players I want to play with. Those are the players who are going to fit what I want.’ I just knew coming at that time and playing with those type of people, we would be able to do what we were able to do. Also, just basketball-wise, coach Coale’s motion offense was another thing I looked at. Every system doesn’t work for every player and she had that spacing inside that allowed me to do what I was able to do.”

Coale said of Courtney and Ashley, “They’re pretty proactive, both of those guys. They know what they want and they were looking for a relation-based program. That was a priority for them.”

Ross concurred and said, “Courtney was very much about people, so I think that gave us an advantage. I think what really interested them were the players and the whole support staff. People just mattered to Courtney.”

And Courtney mattered to people. OU fans reciprocated by showing up in record numbers to watch Paris, often packing the Lloyd Noble Center and also the Ford Center in Oklahoma City during Big 12 Tournament and NCAA Tournament games. A significant spike in attendance coincided with her arrival, capped with a record average crowd of 10,979 fans for home games during the 2006-07 season.

There was a Paris mystique. “People wanted to come and see Courtney play,” Coale said.

Coale said her desire to raise Paris’ jersey was a “no-brainer,” so she approached OU athletics director Joe Castiglione with the idea. “This is a decision that goes far beyond the walls of our basketball program,” explained Coale, who has led the Sooners to three Final Fours, 18 straight NCAA Tournament appearances and last year was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. “This is an athletic department decision.”

The trick was somehow finding a window when Paris would be available to attend the ceremony. Paris has played in the WNBA ever since being the No. 7 overall pick in the 2009 draft. She also has become a dominant force overseas during the WNBA’s offseason.

Paris currently is averaging 17.6 rebounds, 14.0 points and 2.6 assists per game, playing for unbeaten Hatay (5-0) in the KBSL, which is the top women’s professional basketball league in Turkey. The league schedule happens to be on a 13-day break, which is why Paris was able to take a 14-hour flight to Dallas earlier this week and then head north. Paris said she had it written into this year’s contract with Hatay that she would be allowed to attend Friday’s ceremony in-person.

The timing of this entirely was up to her schedule,” Coale said. “We knew it was going to be this season sometime and it just happened to end up being the first game.”

Paris was visiting the Lloyd Noble Center last year when she learned of the decision the hang her jersey. “I remember coach Ross told me, ‘Hey, coach Coale needs to meet with you,’ ” Paris said. “I went into coach’s office and said, ‘Am I in trouble? What I do wrong? What’s going on?’ ”

Coale laughed at the exchange. “Of course that’s what she said,” Coale said. “That’s always her first question. ‘What did I do? What did I do?’ 

Truth is, Paris did a lot. More than anyone else has, or perhaps ever will.

“When I came to school I didn’t think of awards or anything like that. I just wanted to win,” Paris said. “I remember seeing one of the men’s players (Stacey King in 2008) get their jersey retired and thought, ‘Someday, I hope that’s me.’ Not that I take anything for granted, but it takes a lot to get me super excited about honors and things like that. But this one touches my heart. It really means a lot to me.”

Coale and Ross still look back in amazement at how the 6-foot-4 Paris dominated the post position.

“The athleticism and the grace in a body like that is just unheard of,” Coale said. “I’ll forever say she has the greatest set of hands I’ve ever seen in the game. She could catch anything. She was a guard’s dream. Just throw it in the neighborhood and she’ll come up with it.”

Ross said, “To this day, I still have never seen a rebounder like her. The hands, the long arms, the athletic ability to get there was amazing. She’s very nimble, moves quickly. Even when I watch her today, she amazes me. Everybody thought her success was just because she was big, but it was her ability to get to places, her flair for rebounding and her savviness of just knowing where the ball is going to rebound to. She did her work early under the rim (in anticipation).”

This is why people believe many of Paris’ records will never fall.

“There really had never been anyone like her before,” Coale said, “and I don’t know if there will be anyone like her to follow.”