OU women's basketball all-time team: Though she was terrific, Stacey Dales made everybody else better, too

Stacey Dales. Transcript photo by Bill Hefton.

The quotes are so good. They’re so good and explain so much.

Typically, they get broken out to clarify a point or objective.

That will happen.

But not yet.

For fear of not getting back to them, let’s roll out a few from our subject right now.

“I was 7 or 8 years old, and I remember vividly passing the ball to somebody and putting them in a position to score easily,” she said. “And I thought, ‘Wow, I can make people better and bring joy to them.’”

Here’s another.

“I do believe that I’m a natural-born leader, it’s in my blood,” she said. “There’s only one objective and it’s to win.”

Or this one.

“I played the game with the little kid inside me, with my spirit,” she said. “I played it unbridled. I played it with this otherworldly passion and wanted to share it.”

Find a player who sees themselves, their role and what they’re there to accomplish like that and talent may not even be required to excel.

Put them together into a 6-foot point guard in the women’s game, a natural athlete and who sees the whole floor and you might just have an all-timer on your hands.

Because Stacey Dales, all the way from Brockville, Ontario, was that self-aware, that unselfish and that sure of the way she was supposed to play the game, Oklahoma sure did.

Putting together a Sooner women’s basketball all-time team, there’s no way she isn’t on it.

Dales was a great player, and she played with great players, but she was the ringleader, directing a team that went from nowhere to three straight Sweet 16s, the last one a weigh station on the way to the 2002 Final Four and national championship game.

Connecticut beat OU 82-70 in that game, yet the Sooners were within four points very late against a pack of Huskies that finished 39-0. No team that season, including second-ranked Tennessee, in Knoxville, had played UConn so close.

Among the best five or 10 women’s college teams of the 21st century, the 2001-02 Sooners could well be one of them and Dales is the one who made them go.

“Stace never needed anybody to give her permission to be great. That’s what set her apart,” OU women’s basketball coach Sherri Coale said. “She’s the best I’ve ever been around at getting the best out of the people around her.”

For some, conventional statistics tell the story. For others, advanced statistics or the place they pushed their team tells it. For others, the best of the best, you may just know it when you see it.

Dales' numbers were terrific, but it was the way she played the game that got fans out of their seats.

She was a two-time Big 12 player of the year, MVP of the 2002 conference tourney, dished a program-record 764 assists — 5.8 per game over 132 games — remains the program’s seventh-leading scorer, was the program’s first two-time All-American and, not that it matters for this exercise, though it remains pretty cool, played for the 2000 Canadian Olympic team in Sydney and remains the highest-drafted Sooner in WNBA history, selected third overall by the Washington Mystics.

Yet, for all of that, watching her pilot a fast break, rally her team through tense moments with words, body language and charisma or toss an on-the-money no-look pass as easily as putting one front in front of the other are the enduring images, bigger than the numbers, for those who saw her play.

“I remember practicing, running down the court, I’m in the left lane, running as fast as I can,” former Sooner great Phylesha Whaley said. “LeNeshia [Caufield’s] on the other side and Stacey was looking at LaNeishea the whole time. Then she passed it to me. I caught it, but I was surprised. That’s when I knew she was legit. She’s going to be great. She turned into everything we thought she would and more.”

Dales gives Coale credit for pushing and guiding her to become the best version of herself.

“Sherri never told me not to do that. Not ever,” Dales said. “You have to give people the ability to be themselves and to grow and evolve. I don’t want to say ‘wild’ but … I was able to be me when I played for Sherri.”

Dales remains herself.

Beyond a fine five-season WNBA career, she’s been a wildly successful broadcaster, working college basketball and football for ESPN before becoming a host and reporter for the NFL Network, where she’s been since the latter part of 2009.

Lately, she’s maintained her NFL Network duties while working as an in-game college basketball analyst for Fox Sports.

She lives in suburban Chicago.

She no longer plays the game, but she's still moving and shaking.

Among the gifts Dales received after finishing her time at OU was the Dr. Seuss book, given to her by Coale, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go.”

How apropos.

Already, she’d taken the Sooners many places. Also, she was just getting started.

Clay Horning

366-3526

Follow me @clayhorning

cfhorning@normantranscript.com

Horning is senior sports columnist for The Norman Transcript.

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