NORMAN — Because she could do so many things, Whitney Hand always made her team better when she was on the floor.
If she wasn’t scoring, she’d rebound. If she wasn’t rebounding, she’d win loose balls. If she didn’t have an athletic advantage, she’d outthink her opponent.
Of course, after tearing the ACL in her left knee, thereby finishing her season and collegiate career, Hand watches from the bench now. And though she may not have considered it, something else also is becoming clear. By leaving the court, necessity being the mother of invention, she has made her teammates better.
The examples abound, from Joanna McFarland grabbing more rebounds to Sharane Campbell offering more and better minutes. Still, there is no better example than the player many already considered a star.
Aaryn Ellenberg was voted to the five-player coaches preseason All-Big 12 team after averaging a team-best 15.5 points per game last season and was averaging 15.8 when Hand was lost for the season. She has averaged 23 since, and her coach, Sherri Coale, insists it’s only the tip of the iceberg.
“She will never get enough credit for how much she’s improved. I promise you that,” she said. “Because that’s just the way it is when you’re a great player. I mean, who goes and talks about how good Peyton Manning gets from one year to the next?”
Coale said that a few minutes after OU’s Saturday night victory over Texas Tech and maybe 90 minutes after Manning’s Denver Broncos had fallen to the Baltimore Ravens in the NFL playoffs.
Still, you get the idea.
Ellenberg has led the Sooners to a 14-2 start to the season and a 4-0 start in the Big 12 Conference, benchmarks the program last achieved in the 2008-09 season when OU began 24-2 and 12-0. Tonight, she will lead the Sooners into Hilton Coliseum, where OU meets No. 25 Iowa State (12-2, 3-1 Big 12).