NORMAN — Five years after Courtney Paris played her final game at Oklahoma, Sherri Coale can fully appreciate the former All-American’s historic career.
That’s why the Sooners coach doesn’t expect the full weight of senior guard Aaryn Ellenberg’s career to sink in for a while.
“When we have a prolific 3-point shooter making basket after basket after basket, and we look up and she’s still so far away from Aaryn’s records, then it will sink in,” Coale said.
Ellenberg will begin her final NCAA Tournament at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, when the 10th-seeded Sooners face No. 7-seed DePaul in Durham, N.C. The Las Vegas native holds OU’s single-season and career records for 3-pointers made, and is second in school history — behind only Paris — in career points scored.
“She just has an uncanny ability to score, and I think she has grown as a defensive player,” Coale said. “She has grown in her understanding of the game without the ball in her hand. I think the pauses between the notes, if you will, have improved dramatically for her.”
Ellenberg wasn’t ready to reflect on her remarkable career when asked about it this week.
“It’s all just been one big focus on the team and what we’ve been doing over the last four years, so I guess when I get away from it I’ll be able to reflect on it a little bit,” Ellenberg said.
The quiet, reserved Ellenberg has never been particularly fond of media interviews and rarely displays much emotion on the basketball court. The most memorable exception came earlier this month during a postgame Senior Day ceremony; Ellenberg broke down in tears addressing the crowd when she began to thank her mother.
What Ellenberg does best is score points, and she’s done that as prolifically as almost anyone in Oklahoma women’s basketball history.
Still, she entered her senior season hoping to improve her leadership skills, which lagged over her first three seasons on campus, when players like Whitney Hand and Joanna McFarland were around to take on that role.
“Slowly but surely,” Ellenberg said when asked how her leadership has come along this season. “I’m not all the way there yet. I don’t think there’s a ceiling for anything of that sort. There’s always room for improvement. I think I’ve done a better job than I have in the past.
“It’s just never really been my personality to be like that.”
Last season, with Hand and McFarland on the roster, Oklahoma thrived in the underdog role once it hit the NCAA Tournament, upsetting UCLA in the second round to secure a spot in the Sweet 16.
Coale believes OU is capable of making a similar run this year, but added that “this team is wound completely differently than last year’s team.”
The coach’s confidence stems from Oklahoma’s ability to play well with its back squarely against the wall this year. Ellenberg missed two games with a concussion in February, and OU won both of them.
“I don’t think many people besides us thought we could win those games,” Coale said. “There’s some inherent grit in that. We haven’t seen that as full scale as any of us would like, there is some grit in there. If we can get that to coagulate, I think we can do anything we want to do.”