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jk the sooner fan
1/21/2006, 09:52 AM
By BRIAN DAVIS / The Dallas Morning News

NORMAN, Okla. Anyone who has not seen Oklahoma freshman Courtney Paris play must think her statistics are typos.

She had 30 points against Iowa and pulled down 22 rebounds against UCLA. She poured in 29 against Michigan State and grabbed 21 boards. Iowa State got her into foul trouble. Paris had only 15 points and 13 rebounds that night, but the Sooners still won by 20.

In 18 games, the 18-year-old from California has established herself as a statistical freight train. She is chugging toward one of the best freshman seasons in NCAA history. It is possible OU fans are settling in for a four-year journey led by someone on track to become one of the best women's players ever.

"You cannot stop her right now," said Texas A&M coach Gary Blair, who has been coaching women's basketball players since 1980. "She might be the best post player in the country right now as a freshman after only two months. I'd hate to see her as a senior. Maybe I will have graduated by then."

Said Anne Donovan, the coach of the WNBA's Seattle Storm who also will lead the 2008 U.S. Olympic team: "Her numbers just scream, especially the rebounds. You can't help but take notice of her."

Great players win championships. By that standard, Paris is not a great player yet. No. 17 OU (14-4, 4-0 Big 12) can tighten its grip on first place in the Big 12 today against No. 8 Baylor (13-2, 3-2), a team led by a player who has won a national championship, Sophia Young.

"Does [Paris] have the tough, winning personality of a person like Diana Taurasi?" said Rebecca Lobo, the 1995 national player of the year at Connecticut. "I don't know yet because I haven't seen her in [NCAA] tournament action. But, she seems to have all the things physical and intangible that a superstar possesses."

One of those intangibles, it seems, is humility.

"I can't come and win a national championship for Oklahoma," Paris said. "But I can come here, contribute and help. It's realizing no one person can do it by themselves. It's going to take all of us."

Paris isn't a typical 6-4 center. Many young players her size have not matured athletically. Paris has.

She is smooth when pivoting on the low block. She is poised when passing out of a double-team. She is athletic enough to jump over players and avoid getting the cheap fouls that routinely slow the women's game to a crawl.

"She's just naturally going to get 10 rebounds every night," said ESPN analyst Stacey Dales-Schuman, who led the Sooners to the 2002 Final Four. "And if she doesn't, you can give a special medal to the opposition."

Paris averages 20.7 points and 15.0 rebounds and has an NCAA-best 15 double-doubles. If the season ended today, she would be just outside the top 10 scoring averages in Big 12 history but have the season rebounding record by a landslide Baylor's Danielle Crockrom averaged 11.6 boards in 2001.

Relatively speaking

From a national standpoint, Paris' numbers are not unprecedented. Appalachian State's Valorie Whiteside averaged 27.1 points and 15.5 rebounds as a freshman in 1984-85. Consider the competition, though. That team finished 16-12 and didn't win the Southern Conference title.

Few others who played in a major conference come close to Paris.

This season, Paris is on pace for the fourth-highest rebound total in NCAA history and the most blocked shots by a freshman. She averages 3.2 blocks and is second on the team with 19 steals.

If you projected Paris' statistics over four years, she would be among the top 15 scorers in NCAA history. Not bad for someone who won't shoot many 3-pointers. And she would challenge the rebounding record. Drake's Wanda Ford had 1,887 rebounds in 1983-86. Paris could have almost 2,000.

One could say Paris is the best freshman, male or female, in OU history. Wayman Tisdale, however, averaged 24.5 points in his first season (1982-83). He became the OU men's leading scorer (2,661 points) before jumping to the NBA with a year of eligibility remaining.

"Roy Williams, who's a dear friend, left me a message," OU coach Sherri Coale said. "He said, 'I tell you what. You better be thankful that she's a girl. If she was a guy, she'd have one year and be gone to the league.' I called him back and said I love women's basketball. I've got her for four [years]. Eat your heart out."

The next big thing

Paris can joke about it now, but when she arrived at OU, her weight was no laughing matter.

"I remember watching her play pickup, and after two or three times down the floor, she was gassed," strength coach Tim Overman said. "You have that extra weight, and it's going to take a toll on you."

Overman let Paris and her teammate and twin sister, Ashley, a key reserve for OU, do whatever they wanted during their first two weeks on campus. But Overman said he soon required them to weigh in every Monday and Friday.

Paris is reluctant to say how much she weighed then. But she boasts about losing 30 pounds. Aerobic and weight training and watching how much she ate were the keys for her, Overman said.

"I spent my whole preseason on that stupid StairMaster," Paris said. "I still have a lot of work to do, but I think I've made big strides."

Paris played just 20 minutes in the opener against Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Nov. 11. But she still had 24 points and 10 rebounds. In December, Paris played 38 minutes against UCLA and 34 minutes against Missouri State. She is averaging 27.9 minutes a game.

"She's Shaq," Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly told the Des Moines Register. "That's who people will compare her to the Shaquille O'Neal type."

OU players know that Paris is a special talent. But they say they have come to realize she cannot single-handedly lead the Sooners to any championship.

Coale said Paris called several players out for their performance during a 20-point loss to Michigan State just before Christmas break.

"She definitely was frustrated, but I think she had the same frustration that everyone else had," forward Beky Preston said. "For whatever reason, things weren't moving on all cylinders yet."

In four Big 12 games, Paris and her teammates have fed off each other. OU leads the league in scoring (79.8) and shooting percentage (.464) in conference play.

"The non-Oklahoma fan probably thinks we haven't clinched a big one yet," Paris said. "But inside the locker room, there's this big sense of confidence after every game since the Christmas break and where we've gone.

"This is going to be a special team, and I think we're on the verge of something big."

Beef
1/21/2006, 09:55 AM
Pleasant surprise on the front page of the sports section.

jk the sooner fan
1/21/2006, 10:02 AM
Pleasant surprise on the front page of the sports section.

yes i agree!

oumartin
1/21/2006, 11:28 AM
so, they would beat the men by 15? :D

The Original "soonerjeff"
1/21/2006, 12:45 PM
Definitely a great thing to wake up and see this morning!!

Best quote of the article:

"Roy Williams, who's a dear friend, left me a message," OU coach Sherri Coale said. "He said, 'I tell you what. You better be thankful that she's a girl. If she was a guy, she'd have one year and be gone to the league.' I called him back and said I love women's basketball. I've got her for four [years]. Eat your heart out."