"It’s nice to be able to see the foundation of the program,” Sooner point guard Danielle Robinson said, "to be able to interact with them and keep in contact with them.”
That connection was something Olajuwon sought during her recruitment.
"Do you talk to your players after they graduate?” she remembers asking a Big 12 coach who she refused to name.
"Why?” the coach replied.
That business-like approach suits some people, but Olajuwon wanted something different.
Now, she considers LaNeishea Caufield-Daniels a good friend. The same goes for Beky Preston and Stephanie Simon. She never played a day with any of those gals.
"It’s only because we’re Sooners,” Olajuwon said. "It’s only because we’re part of that family.”
And in this family, the elders provide what they can for the current generation. They offer advice. They give suggestions. More than anything, though, they support and cheer, encourage and celebrate.
Lately, no one has celebrated more than the players from the 2002 team. They went to the Final Four in San Antonio, so this year’s team returning to the Alamodome has been special. They sent text messages. They sent flowers. A bunch of them planned to gather in San Antonio.
"We’ll be waiting on the Riverwalk,” they told the players and coaches. "We’ll hold a boat for you. Come see us.”
Thinking about that leaves Coale misty eyed.
"As a coach, God, it doesn’t get any better than that,” she said. "It just doesn’t get any better than that.”
Coale considers that family atmosphere to be the bedrock of her program.
"It’s what we’ve built it upon,” she said. "It’s the essence of our program.”
Players and coaches believe those family ties have helped the Sooners play in the Final Four three times in the 2000s. They have joined an elite group and established a perennial power. They believe there is strength in numbers, and these Sooners are drawing strength from the players who came before them.
"When these guys feel that connection with former players, they’re playing not to let them down,” Coale said. "They’re playing to make them proud.
"That gives you something special.”