Not every great athlete is interesting, but most are. They’re great, after all, and there ought to be a good story behind that greatness.
Some, however, have a great story separate from their greatness and are, thus, even more interesting and Courtney Paris, the most dominant women’s college basketball player to ever take the court — a case to be made in a moment — has one like that.
“I remember telling my mom,” she said, before leaving the Bay Area for Norman, “I think I can average 40 and 20.”
That’s not the story, but it helps to set it up. That’s 40 points and 20 rebounds, by the way.
Did she know that had never been done before? Did she know that in 1989, when Loyola Marymount’s Hank Gathers led the men’s game in both categories, even on a team that scored 112.5, at 32.7 and 13. 7, he was still nowhere near 40 and 20?
Who knows, but that’s where Paris' mind was coming out of high school and headed to Oklahoma. Then, about four minutes into her first game — not even a real game, but an exhibition against coach Sherri Coale’s alma mater, Oklahoma Christian — she’d moved to an entirely different page.
That’s the great story.
“I remember,” Paris said, “up until the the first media timeout, we’re up 15 or 20 and the game’s easy and I literally haven’t touched the ball inside and I start to internalize.
“I have 10 rebounds and people are cheering, and I’m just thinking, that’s all right, I’m going to be a rebounder. I may not get the points, but I’m going to be a rebounder.”
Paris did not mean she would just be a rebounder in that game. She meant, by the time the first media timeout hit, she’d entirely re-evaluated the type of college basketball player she was going to be. Even faster, Coale ripped up her new plan.
“Then,” Paris said, “in the first media timeout, coach Coale says, ‘We did not bring big girl here not to get the ball inside.’”
How great is that?
It’s a reminder that even the very best, entering with all the confidence in the world, can still just be impressionable 18-year-olds doing something for the first time, uncertain how to respond.
Paris wound up with 25 points and 18 rebounds that night in 19 minutes of court time, numbers she would fail to average in a season of games that counted.
Paris, of course, is the final player on The Transcript’s all-time Sooner women’s basketball team. She’s the last one, the most obvious one, most dominant and most historic, too.
A four-time, first-team All-American, her first two Sooner seasons defy description.
That LSU’s Seimone Augustus in ’05-06 and Tennessee’s Candace Parker in ’06-07 were named national players of the year over Paris are testaments to built-in bias for upperclassmen and historic blue blood programs, because this is what Paris did those two seasons.
As a freshman in ’05-06, she averaged 21.9 points, 15 rebounds and 3.3 blocks, ranking fourth, first and seventh nationally.
As a sophomore in ’06-07, she averaged 23.5 points, 15.9 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks, ranking third, second and fourth.
In the history of the college game, men and women, there have been two 700-point, 500-rebound, 100-block seasons and Paris has both of them.
“She just had extraordinary feel. That was always her greatest gift,” Coale said. “When she caught it, she had the angle [to score]. I don’t think she could even tell you how she did it.”
She led OU to the first perfect Big 12 season — 16-0 in regular-season conference play, followed by a conference tourney championship — as a freshman, to the Final Four as a senior, to 113 wins over her four seasons. Twice, the Sooners surpassed 30 wins, once they won 28.
“Why didn’t I redshirt,” is what former Sooner great Dionnah Jackson remembers saying upon watching Paris play as a freshman, one season after her senior year.
Paris put together a run of 112 consecutive double-doubles, too, but they were beside the point, by-products rather than definers of her dominance.
Though she was ready to be a rebounding specialist entering the first media timeout of her first exhibition game, she arrived as a fully formed player, the likes of which the program, and probably the entire women’s college game, had never seen.
All of that and Coale also calls Paris, “the most selfless player ever,” perhaps “to a fault.”
Paris believes the selfless ones to be everybody surrounding her.
“I had people around me who wanted to help me,” she said.
Paris is still playing.
Though she wrapped her WNBA career in Seattle last season, her plan is to continue competing oversees.
She actually went from being an historically dominant college player to a professional role player, a transformation about which she’s entirely fine, even grateful.
“My basketball career has gone nothing like I thought it would, the rout I’ve taken. But at the end of it, I’m exactly where I want to be,” she said. “I’ve experienced so many things … I’m so happy.
“The best thing about this sport is the people that come into your life. I’ve been very lucky and very blessed.”
Paring down her hoops to one season per calendar year, she’s curious about what else she might put on her plate.
“I’m really passionate about real estate,” Paris said. “It’s very interesting to me … and I really like writing.”
There could be a very interesting autobiography in her future.
She has the stories.
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