OKLAHOMA CITY — When the Oklahoma women go about getting ready for another basketball season, they will no longer have their numbers in single digits, making five-on-five scrimmaging impossible without their male scout team, as they experienced last season.
Also, Maddie Manning will be back from a torn ACL, Kaylon Williams should be back from a torn Achilles’ tendon and help will have arrived in the form of another heralded recruiting class.
And Aaryn Ellenberg will have a gold medal to show everybody. Or, far more importantly, she’ll have had the experience required to earn it.
Her coach, too.
That’s how Sherri Coale and Ellenberg, the Sooners’ All-Big 12 and honorable mention All-American shooting guard, spent their summer vacation, in Kazan, Russia, with Coale coaching Team USA, and Ellenberg helping to lead it at the World University Games.
A one-point victory over Australia put Team USA in position to win gold and, given that opportunity, it routed the homestanding Russians 90-71.
More exciting for Sooner fans is what it might mean when they see Ellenberg back in crimson and cream come November.
“I’ve never had any (player) participate in international basketball and come back and not make their team better,” Coale said. “All the way back to Stacey Dales playing in Australia (at the Sydney Olympics) for Team Canada. They just come back and raise the water and everybody gets better as a result.”
Ellenberg was playing alongside some heavyweights of the women’s college game. Like Baylor’s Odyssey Sims, Louisville’s Shoni Schimmel, Connecticut’s Bria Hartley and Central Michigan’s Crystal Bradford, who Sooner fans may remember canning 35 points against OU in last season’s NCAA tournament opener in Columbus, Ohio, a game Ellenberg’s 22 points helped spearhead the Sooners to a 78-73 victory.
Ellenberg didn’t get lost amongst some of the nation’s best players. She contributed in almost every game and starred in a couple, leading the Americans to a 105-75 victory over Brazil with a team-high 19 points in just 19 minutes of court time, one game after going for 12 points in a 101-61 route of the Czech Republic.
“She did a great job. She had a couple of tremendous games in pool play,” Coale said. “I mean, crazy good, and I think it was good for her because she had to play a little bit of a different role than she plays at Oklahoma.”
She also had to face a different caliber of athlete, dealing with a slew of opponents who play the same position she plays, but with a half-foot height advantage. Indeed, Ellenberg may have learned her limits are not what she thought they were.
“Being up there, everybody’s almost on an even playing level, and just to have to push harder and push harder every day in practice and, all of that, definitely helps me,” she said, “when I come back here and know that I’m capable of a lot more than maybe I thought I was before.”
Ellenberg averaged 16.2 points her freshman season, 15.5 as a sophomore and 18.7 last year. When Whitney Hand went down with yet another ACL tear, the Las Vegas Bishop Gorman product exploded, averaging 23.2 points over her next 10 games.
Of course, the way she often goes about doing it, seemingly effortlessly, can be enough to wonder why a run like that has to end after 10 games.
Perhaps now it won’t.
Ellenberg’s always played with great confidence. Heading into her senior season, she should have even more.
It has to be a good thing.
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