Oklahoma's All-American center has one goal for senior season.
Nov. 2, 2008
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) -- For a player who's filled up the record books and won plenty of individual accolades, there's one obvious line missing from Courtney Paris' impressive resume. She's never played in the Final Four.
Oklahoma's record-setting double-double machine has accomplished just about everything else. She's an All-America center and former AP national player of the year, for starters, but the honors don't quite satisfy her.
"The funny part of it is, I knew there was All-American and all the little awards, but I never thought about them. I came here and I thought, 'I want to win a national championship.' I've gotten all that other stuff, but what I really want is the big one," Paris said.
"I want my team to go to the Final Four, and I don't want to go there by myself this year.''
Paris has experienced the Final Four as an individual, picking up trophies for the annual honors that have come her way as she has averaged 21.4 points and 15.3 rebounds in her first three seasons. Her unbelievable streak of 92 straight double-doubles is still alive, but that's not what is on her mind as the season nears.
"There's a different kind of urgency, and maybe I feel that a little bit more personally since it's my senior year and it's my last time around here,'' Paris said. "I came to Oklahoma to win the national championship. I know that personally is what's pushing me through this year.''
With the pressure that could come with that final, all-or-nothing chance, Paris took the opportunity this summer to get away from her usual day-to-day existence as the face of women's basketball in Norman.
Having missed out on the Olympics, she didn't have a national basketball team to play on for the first time since she was 15. So, she spent her summer reading books, going on a bass fishing trip with her dad and traveling back home to California, where she could blend in better without escaping from basketball entirely.
Back in the gym where she became a McDonald's All-American phenom, Paris got back to basics with Piedmont High School coach Bryan Gardere.
"For me and my mental state, I needed to get away from basketball a little bit and then also at the same time get more into the little things that I did before I got here that allowed me to be so successful,'' Paris said.
"I mean, I didn't walk into Oklahoma top-notch, ready to go just luckily. There was a lot of people that put a lot of time into me, and my high school coach is one of those guys. Just being back in a gym with him one-on-one and working on my game in that atmosphere was huge for me, and I needed that.''
Gardere made Paris re-examine her shot -- she often puts back her own misses from point-blank range -- and showed her film on Minnesota Timberwolves forward Al Jefferson and WNBA star Lisa Leslie that was focused on improving her footwork.
Local college players would occasionally stop by, but much of the work involved just Paris and her former coach. Gardere also made a trip to Norman to work with Paris and her twin sister, Ashley.
"I feel a really good connection with my high school coach, and he's one of the guys who has made me the confident player I am,'' Paris said. "So, it was cool to get back to something that's comfortable and that really works for me, and to take that and kind of push my way through this year.''
Paris said it was her first trip home in two years, after spending last Christmas in Norman.
"I never get to do that -- just being home and being somewhere where I feel like, 'Oh, this is me.' It was kind of cool,'' she said. "I needed that just to kind of get away from basketball and everything else.''
Sooners coach Sherri Coale doesn't doubt that her star player needed to take a break, even though Paris may not have realized it until she had no other choice. Now that she's back, Coale has noticed a refreshed Paris who is immersed completely both mentally and physically.
"The first thing that you've got to be able to do if you're trying to take care of other people is you've got to take care of yourself, and maybe that was that for her,'' Coale said.
There's also a different feeling generally among the Sooners, who had six seniors during their second straight Big 12 championship run in 2006 before having absolutely none for last year's disappointing fifth-place finish.
"I think it does make a difference,'' Paris said. "I know with me, I'm like, 'It's my last shot. I don't have anything.'
"I'm going to expect everybody to play their best. I'm expecting that out of myself, I'm expecting that out of my sister because this is all I have and I want to make my last shot the best shot that I have.''
Anything less than the school's second Final Four appearance, she doesn't hesitate to say, would be a disappointment.
"I've been in a great situation here. I've met a lot of great people and we have great fans. Just personally, I want to leave this university with something special,'' Paris said. "They've played in the final game and they didn't win it and the only thing they don't have is that national championship, and I want to help them get it.''