NORMAN — For Courtney Paris, it all started with words of encouragement.
She realized coaching was in her future during the final years of her professional basketball career when tutoring former Notre Dame standout Arike Ogunbowale.
“I enjoyed mentoring her,” Paris said. “I enjoyed working with [our] coach, watching film. … Those feelings I was having … I wasn’t necessarily saying, ‘I want to go be a coach …’”
But then her former coached asked her to do just that.
Sherri Coale, who brought Paris along as she became one of women’s college basketball’s most dominant players at Oklahoma, approached her with an opportunity to return to her alma mater as an assistant.
It was a eureka moment for Paris, whose hire was announced last week.
“It was like, this made perfect sense to me. This opportunity feels good to me,” Paris said. “I love Oklahoma, I believe in Oklahoma.”
Now the Sooners move forward with their best player of all-time on the bench, hoping her knowledge, lessons and recognizability can lift them from a lull in program history.
Paris played on the program’s 2009 Final Four team. OU is 20-40 the past two seasons.
“I expect her to have a very definite impact on that,” Coale said. “It’s more about who she is than what she has done. But sometimes what you’ve done is what opens the door for someone to find out who you are. She has that.”
One of OU’s current players reminded Paris recently just how much time has passed since the former Sooner center was dominating in college.
“One of them said, ‘I was 5 years old when you were playing,’” Paris said, responding that, as long as she was playing basketball, she always felt 20 years old.
She still has a youthful energy that’s evident in conversation.
“I can definitely relate to younger players, but also I have all this experience and all these ups and downs,” Paris said. “My professional career, it’s so funny, it wasn’t like my college career. It started off really, really hard so it gave me this perspective. I played every single position on every single team, as far as my role on the team and it taught me so much.”
Traditional post players aren’t prevalent on OU’s current roster or in basketball as a whole. But Paris’ 11-year WNBA career exposed her to standouts like former teammate Breanna Stewart, who at 6 feet 5 inches thrives all over the court.
Coale has no plans to change the Sooners’ guard-oriented style from the past two seasons. If she were to sign a dominant back-to-the-basket post player, that might change.
“I’m going to be committed to a style of player that best suits the players that we have in our program,” Coale said. “We weren’t playing a post-dominated offense when we were recruiting Courtney back in the day, but when could get a player of her ability, we’re gonna recruit her, sign her and play a post oriented offense to use her strengths.
“I think one of the things that does, obviously, is for those players back-to-the-basket players that are out there, they know the opportunity that they could have here.”
Paris and fellow assistant Jackie Stiles, a former career NCAA leading scorer at Missouri State, give OU two former stars who could resonate on the recruiting trail.
Coale joked that no one should challenge her staff in a game of 5-on-5. She offered to be the inbounder, letting Paris and Stiles do the work.
“I would think that for any offensive-minded player, they would think, ‘I won’t get much better tutelage than those two,’” Coale said. “… Both of them became all-time greats because of how they worked at their craft and because of how they were able to get people to play with them and for them.
“I think that is the magic for great players. That is the magic. So, if you play in our program, you get a front-row seat to the magic.”