SAN ANTONIO — Abi Olajuwon played with the piece of white cord freshly snipped off the Sprint Center net.
It was longer than last season’s.
As the Oklahoma center celebrated the Sooners’ return trip to the Final Four on Tuesday night, she found herself thinking about past OU teams that didn’t make it as far. Her freshman season, the Sooners had a celebrated senior class led by Leah Rush, but they lost in the Sweet 16.
When the Sooners made the Final Four last year, Olajuwon cut her piece of net in half and gave a piece to Rush.
"I knew how much it meant to her,” Olajuwon said.
The bond that Olajuwon feels with Rush might be rare in the sports world, but it is hardly unique on this OU team. Links to past players are common among these players.
What’s more, the bonds are strong.
They always are among Sooners past and present. Sherri Coale makes sure of that, and at a time when the teams left in the NCAA Tournament are looking for every edge, this might be one for OU. These Sooners aren’t just playing for themselves.
"We’re doing it for everybody who wanted to be there,” Amanda Thompson said. "We’re doing it for them.”
The Sooner senior looked for another way to explain the bonds that extend across different generations of teams and different eras of the program.
"It’s kind of like a sorority when you think about it,” she said. "Except you don’t have to do all that other stuff.”
No spring formals. No date dashes.
"It’s just family,” Thompson said. "It’s more than just being a part of a program. It’s being part of a family.”
That family atmosphere is one of Coale’s main selling points with recruits. While they may not entirely grasp what she means — "Once you’re an Oklahoma Sooner, you’re always an Oklahoma Sooner, you’re always a part of that family” — the ones who commit quickly realize how deep the connections run.
Players meet alums who received the same scholarship that they have. (Every women’s basketball scholarship has been endowed and named.) They meet alums when they come to games. They stay connected via e-mail and text and Facebook.
Jamie Talbert-Wyrick, the starting center on the Sooners’ 2002 Final Four team, even started a Facebook group for current and former players.