Stacey Dales was a superb high school athlete tucked away in Canada. Though soccer was her first love and she excelled in track and field and volleyball, Dales wanted to pursue basketball because it offered the greatest opportunity. She had all but decided to play college ball for Syracuse, which had been flirting with Dales since she was in ninth grade and was only a two-hour drive from her hometown of Brockville, Ontario.
Then Oklahoma came calling.
Trouble was, Dales had no idea where Oklahoma was located.
“She literally had to get a globe off her shelf to find where Oklahoma was,” Sooners women’s basketball coach Sherri Coale recalled with a laugh.
In fairness, the Sooners initially had no idea Stacey Dales existed, either.
At the time, Oklahoma women’s basketball was in desperate need of a savior. Seven years earlier, the program literally had no pulse for eight days after being dropped temporarily from the school’s athletic department.
Coale had gone a combined 13-41 (.241) her first two seasons and was on the prowl for new talent. She sent Sooners assistant coach Pam DeCosta on a recruiting trip to Canada to scout a point guard who had sent OU coaches some game footage. Coale said she doesn’t even remember that player’s name now, but she does remember getting a telephone call from DeCosta.
DeCosta: “I have found the savior.”
Coale: “I saw film of this kid and she is not the savior.”
DeCosta: “You’re right. She’s not, but I went to this other gym and saw this kid who is unbelievable.”
Coale: “What’s her name?”
DeCosta: “Stacey, I think.”
Coale: “What’s her last name?”
DeCosta: “Well, I don’t know yet.”
Coale: “Then why are you calling me?”
DeCosta: “Because I’m going to miss my flight if I stay. Do you want me to stay?”
Coale: “Well, yeah. If she’s the freaking savior, stay.”
Coale flew to Canada the following week to observe Dales in person.
"She literally had to get a globe off her shelf to find where Oklahoma was."
Head Coach Sherri Coale
“I loved her before the game even started,” Coale said. “She was a 6-foot point guard jumping center. I called Pam and said, ‘I love her and they haven’t even thrown the ball up yet.’ The first two or three times she had the ball, she literally threw it into the stands and off the wall. They were look-away passes that no one could seeing coming, but you could just tell she was something special.”
Dales took an official recruiting visit to that faraway place called Oklahoma.
“They were my fifth (final) visit, and it was a no-brainer,” Dales said of choosing to play for the Sooners. “When I flew into Oklahoma, I was thinking, ‘How many cowboy hats am I going to see? Am I going to be passing farm after farm?’ There was some quiet trepidation from my parents, who thought they would have a two-hour drive to watch me play home games. They went from a two-hour drive to a 2½-day drive.”
Coale had signed her savior. “We could tell when she left after her visit that she wanted to come,” Coale said. “It was all truly so foreign to her. Being a 28-hour drive from home was something she had not even considered. She had a nice little box of schools she was considering, and Oklahoma was waaaay outside that box.”
Deep down, Dales knew walking the ball up court and playing nothing but zone defense at Syracuse was not for her. She wanted pace and space, which meant she wanted Coale.
It was a courageous move for Dales, choosing to play far away from home to join a program coming off a 5-22 season.
“Most kids would run from that,” Dales said. “None of us were All-Americans. None of us were ‘esteemed’ by media standards. We were just a bunch of blue-collar, big-eyed kids trying to turn a program around. Looking back, I thank God I did it, went out on a limb and took a risk. These days, kids don’t always take that jump, that giant leap of faith to make something better.”
Funny how things work sometimes, because that girl who needed a globe to locate Oklahoma is the same person who wound up putting the OU women’s program on the map.
This is why prior to the Nov. 21 women’s basketball game against Bradley, Dales will become the first female in the history of OU athletics to have her uniform number “honored.” Dales was the program’s initial First-Team All-American (twice) and a marquee player who led the Sooners to their first appearance in the national championship game.
Dales’ No. 21 jersey will hang in Lloyd Noble Center alongside past greats from the men’s program – Wayman Tisdale (No. 23), Alvan Adams (No. 33), Mookie Blaylock (No. 10) and Stacey King (No. 33). On hand for the ceremony will be Dales’ teammates on the 2002 Final Four national runner-up team, plus other alumni. Dales seemed the obvious choice to become the inaugural female honoree.
“This was something that has been on (OU athletics director) Joe Castiglione’s radar for quite some time,” Coale said. “We just wanted to make sure we were true to the process because this is a really big deal and you want to make sure you do it right.”
It was Coale who telephoned Dales with news of her selection. “She wept,” Coale said. “She was silent, then you could hear her sobbing. She absolutely was moved. She has such great respect for our institution and for her time here. I didn’t know it was possible for me to feel any more strongly toward her, but it made me even more appreciative because of how she viewed her time here.”
"We stand mightily on Stacey’s shoulders every day."
Head Coach Sherri Coale
When informed of Coale’s appreciation, Dales again became emotional.
“When you believe in something so strongly, your faith never dies,” the 35-year-old Dales explained of her OU bond that has not waned. “You never go through perfect times, so in the whole process of that, if your belief is strong enough, your faith never dies. That’s my whole link to the University of Oklahoma.”
Though it has been a dozen years since Dales became the No. 3 overall pick in the 2002 WNBA Draft, her presence within the program remains. There are many reasons why her number will be honored. Perhaps a before/after snapshot explains it best.
- Before Dales, the women’s basketball program had an all-time record of 337-335 (.501), a 98-128 (.434) mark in conference play and had made just four postseason tournament appearances – two NCAA; two WNIT – in its first 24 seasons of existence.
- Since Dales, the Sooners have an overall record of 386-153 (.716), a Big 12 Conference record of 183-79 (.698), have made the postseason every year (including 15 straight NCAA Tournaments), advanced to three Final Fours (2002, 2009, 2010) and have never had a losing season, not even in conference play.
Feel free to mark these moments in time as B.C. (Before Coale) and A.D. (After Dales).
“We stand mightily on Stacey’s shoulders every day,” said Coale, who is in her 19th season as OU’s coach.
Dales doesn’t see her arrival solely as the “Line of Demarcation” for the program, however.
“I wouldn’t just say it was me,” Dales said. “Phylesha Whaley and La’Neishea Caufield, those two in particular, they were my court sidekicks. The two of them never missed a pass. Passing was my favorite thing to do and those two gave me such great space and confidence. La’Neishea was so sneaky fast. Phylesha was just a constant. She would never let me down.”
Dales also shoves substantial credit in Coale’s direction. “I believe in Sherri. I believe in the program,” Dales said. “I learned to play basketball because of Sherri Coale. I’ve had coaches, but she taught me how to play the game, how to take my innate abilities and parlay them into the game of basketball.”
Dales’ collegiate career began painfully. She played precisely 100 seconds as a true freshman in 1997-98. With 18:40 left in the opening half of the opening game against Stephen F. Austin, Dales suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament and was lost for the season. “She had the deck squarely stacked against her,” Coale said. “She was injured and homesick.”
As a redshirt freshman the following year, Dales, Whaley and Caufield led the Sooners to the WNIT. Since then, it’s been nothing but NCAA Tournament bids.
The flashy and competitive Dales ruffled some feathers along the way, even in her own locker room. She was not exactly a warm and fuzzy teammate.
“She could make you believe you could fly, but she could also terrify you,” Coale said. “Our locker room was not for the meek. You could not survive because she (Dales) ran the locker room. When her intensity burned too hot, the other players were able to filter it and handle it. It was a really unique group.”
Dales explained her behavior as follows: “If you don’t have a voice that can galvanize the locker room, you’re always going to stay in the same place. You have to rattle things just enough to where accountability becomes the primary conductor of an entire group. You don’t watch a symphony and not see a maestro. You’re all trying to figure out who you are, fighting for the same thing, but there has to be a voice in there.
“I certainly wasn’t perfect because imperfection is normal and perfect is not possible. For me, it was to be a positive voice and challenge my teammates. It becomes very contagious when you have positive accountability. We all have egos, but how big is that ego? How is it channeled and funneled in a team atmosphere? That’s what we had.”
Coale vividly remembers an angry Dales in March of 1999, sitting underneath the basket, refusing to stand, insisting the team had been worked too hard.
Evidently, Mustangs roam free in Canada, and this one needed to be tamed. “There were all sorts of things I demanded of her, and we (coaches) never took the pedal off,” Coale said of Dales, who was a member of the Canadian National Team for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. “We just pushed her. Sometimes when you’re trying to break a horse, she just reared. She came in as a confident player, but a little bit wild. Tremendous leadership potential, but rough around the edges.”
"She could make you believe you could fly, but she could also terrify you. Our locker room was not for the meek."
Head Coach Sherri Coale
Dales started every game she played for the Sooners (133), remains the school’s all-time assist leader (764) and still ranks in the Top 10 all-time in 15 different statistical categories. She also excelled in the classroom, winning the prestigious Academic All-American Team Member of the Year Award in 2002 and earning bachelor’s degree in communications.
Suffering from a blood disorder in her hands known as Raynaud's phenomenon, Dales retired after five seasons in the WNBA, averaging 9.2 points, 2.7 assists and 2.2 rebounds in 150 career games. She now serves as a studio host and reporter on the NFL Network, which she joined in 2009. Prior to that, Dales spent seven years as an analyst and reporter for ESPN and ABC, covering NCAA football, men’s and women’s basketball and the NBA.
Dales admits she feels a bit awkward being the first OU female athlete to have her uniform honored. “There are a lot of people who went there deserving of an honor like this,” Dales said. “I’m rarely speechless, but I am when it comes to this. It’s hard to fathom this is happening. It’s definitely a humbling experience with a lot of gratitude. I’m beyond honored.”
On Nov. 21, that honor will become official.