|Photo Courtesy: SoonerSports.com|
Head coach Sherri Coale and the Sooners gathered with members of the media in the Chesapeake Courtside Club above the practice facility of the Lloyd Noble Center for the Sooners’ annual media day before hitting the hardwood for their first full practice of the year.
“We have had a couple of training camps,” Coale said. “We have a defensive training camp and an offensive training camp where we go four days a week for each. That’s the look that we have had primarily. They have great energy; they seem to have a great deal of confidence and great chemistry together. We’re just young, unproven and we have to earn our way.”
The Sooners’ fifteen-person roster features five freshmen and six sophomores. Many of those youngsters are expected to play key roles for the Coale’s squad. One place that youth will be on display is at point guard, where freshman Gabbi Ortiz, sophomore T’ona Edwards and redshirt sophomore Maddie Manning are competing for the starting job.
It could be Gabbi, it could be Maddie or it could be T.T (T’ona Edwards),” Coale said. “They have all been really good. It’s a spot that obviously when you graduate a three-year starter like Morgan Hook--that played basically 40 minutes a game--that’s a change.”
Perhaps the most important attribute a point guard in a Sherri Coale offense can have is poise. They need to be able to control the team and the flow of the game with their body language as well as the ball.
“That’s a work in progress for all of those guys,” Coale said. “Probably, Gabbi and T.T. are the most naturally lent to that. Maddie is extraordinary with the ball in her hand in the open floor. Gabbi has that sort of innate ability to get everyone on the same page pretty quickly and that’s her asset. She has crazy handles and can push the ball and that kind of thing but I think where her edge would be right now is her ability to glue everyone together really quickly and without a timeout, without a huddle, but with her body language, with her voice, with the ball and that may be her specialty.”
Oklahoma will also need to replace a large chunk of its offense with the graduation of Aaryn Ellenberg. The diminutive shooting guard was second in the Big 12 last season with 19.3 points per game. Junior Nicole Kornet wants to help fill those shoes.
“I don’t plan to shoot; I plan to make,” Kornet said. “I think this year is going to be fun. I am coming off a really good finish last season, so I am really excited to bring that into this one.”
The Sooners will also get a boost from a pair of redshirt sophomore guards who sat out last season. Peyton Little, the Big 12 preseason Newcomer of the Year, missed last season after transferring from Texas A&M, and Manning was sidelined after she injured her knee in a preseason scrimmage.
“I am more than ready.” Little said. “I had to sit out all of last year, but I was able to take a lot away from that. I was able to get better individually, I was able to kind of feel the flow of the system with Coach Coale and figure out that whole thing. I think I will be able to contribute in scoring. I can score the basketball. I’m a competitor and I don’t like to lose.”
“I feel great,” Manning said. “I feel like I am the same player physically that I was a couple years ago. “
A return to form for Manning would be a boon for the Sooners. Manning was the 2012 Iowa Gatorade Player of the Year and was rated as one of the top-10 guards coming out of high school.
If you hang around the program long enough, there is little doubt you will hear the name LaNesia Williams at some point. The freshman is drawing rave reviews for her speed and knack for scoring.
“She is one quick girl,” Kornet said. “She can blow by people, she can attack, and she is a really great defender, which is going to be a key facet for us in the game.”
All that youth for the Sooners makes for an unproven team, but one with tremendous upside and potential. Oklahoma was voted fifth in the Big 12 preseason poll, but if you think Coale and gang will let that faze them, think again.
“I don’t feel any different,” Coale said. “I don’t know that the kids would feel any different in the gym. We have to prove ourselves, and we know that. We are excited about the process.”
“Rankings don’t really mean anything to me,” Little said. “I think we are just worried about focusing on getting better each and every day. We are really focused on not having bad days, so just great days every day in practice and continuing to get better.”
The young Sooner squad will have plenty of opportunities to prove themselves early. Oklahoma opens on Nov. 5 with an exhibition against Southeastern Oklahoma State before playing three games inside the friendly confines of the LNC. Then it’s off to the tropics for the Paradise Jam Tournament on St. Thomas of the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Sooners are part of a strong field that includes Kentucky, a team that advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in last year’s NCAA Tournament.
“We just have to take it one day at a time and not get ahead of ourselves,” junior center Kaylon Williams said. “It’s a great atmosphere when we are all in the gym together. I’m really excited for it all to come and mesh together this week in practice. It’s great. I’m excited.”
/// SoonerSports PR