OU Hoops Share More Than Ranking
Feb. 13, 2009
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) -- When Jeff Capel was hired at Oklahoma, he had something better than a tour guide to help show him around his new coaching home.
Right across the hallway was an experienced coach, raised in the Sooner State, with a Final Four pedigree and a burgeoning program featuring an All-American superstar. Sherri Coale not only knew the lay of the land, she knew all about basketball in Oklahoma--and how to build a winner in Norman.
"When I got here, one of the things I tried to do, especially after my first season, is pick her brain about how did she do it. How did she get it turned?" said Capel, now in his third season with the Sooners. "She's been very helpful for me."
With their practice gyms separated by only a dozen or so steps on the concrete ramp at the Lloyd Noble Center, Capel's program now mirrors Coale's with a No. 2 ranking and both trailing--oddly enough--Connecticut. It's only the second time that one school has held down the top spot in both Associated Press polls while another school was No. 2 in both. And it's never happened in the regular season.
Connecticut was No. 1 in both preseason polls in 2003, while Duke was No. 2.
The coaches consider each other close friends, and they're in constant contact. For most home games, the other coach is seated along the baseline.
"Oh, gosh. Jeff and I talk about everything," Coale said. "It's sort of a little ritual with us before every game: What have we got to do to win?"
They'll meet again sometime afterward for a breakdown and to see how the other coach is feeling about whatever happened--and lately, that means another win. The men's team (24-1) has won 12 in a row and is off to a 10-0 start in Big 12 play. Coale's women are 21-2 have won 17 straight, including their first nine in the conference.
"One of the things that was really unique and struck me when I first got here was just how close the coaches are, and how genuine it is," Capel said after a win against last-place Colorado that was attended by Coale and football coach Bob Stoops.
"I've told people before, Bob Stoops has every reason to be the biggest jerk, as does Sherri Coale, with what they've accomplished here, and they're two of the best people you'll meet and incredibly supportive."
The players seem to be feeding off of each other, too. After Danielle Robinson amassed 17 points and a career-high 12 assists when Oklahoma denied Tennessee coach Pat Summitt her 1,000th win last week, Blake Griffin sent her a congratulatory text message.
"The next day when we were playing A&M, she was like, `I better see 17 and 12 from you, too,"' Griffin said.
The preseason All-American responded with a 16-point, 14-rebound effort in a victory against Texas A&M, another in a line of 21 double-doubles this season that ties the school record.
"Blake and I, we came in at the same time in our freshman years. We've really been pretty close," Robinson said.
"It's not really a daily thing," she said, "but it's pretty often."
The simultaneous success is unprecedented at Oklahoma. Billy Tubbs led the men's team to its only appearances in the top two during the 1988-89 and 1989-90 seasons. The women's team had only reached No. 2 one other time--in the final regular-season poll before the 2002 NCAA tournament, when the Sooners lost to UConn in the championship game.
"It's cool coming in and watching them work, and then knowing on the other side our team is really successful. It's kind of like a brother-sister type of thing," said All-America center Courtney Paris, who had her own NCAA record streak of 112 straight double-doubles snapped last week.
"It's neat to have a program, and both programs, doing so well."
And don't forget the football team just played in the BCS championship game last month. That left baseball coach Sunny Golloway suggesting his team was playing from behind as it opens the season at No. 16 in Baseball America's preseason poll.
"It's a reflection of the university and the fan support, and that a lot of people want to play for OU and want to play for a great program," Paris said.
"I think our women's and men's basketball are just trying to do what the football team is doing, and trying to get our programs to have a tradition of championships."
Coale sees no closer bond than that between the two basketball teams, though. She said it's like "you have a twin that you get to share something with."
"It divides the burdens and doubles the joys," she said.