Courtney Paris became a superstar in four years at Oklahoma.
In five years in the WNBA, she became a journeywoman.
She played for five teams. Got cut by four of them. Started less games than she did some months in college. Even spent an entire season out of the league.
“At times,” she admitted, “it was frustrating.”
Paris is having a breakout season, starting for the Tulsa Shock and posting numbers that are among the best not only on her team but also in the league. The bumps in her per-game averages are jaw dropping.
This season: 9.9 points, 11.6 rebounds, 29.6 minutes.
Her previous highs: 4.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 13.4 minutes.
So, how did Paris go from bust to boom?
It goes back to a city on the Mediterranean coast and a man who she calls Coach C.
Last summer, Paris signed with Mersin, a team in the Turkish Basketball League. She had played in the league the two previous seasons and done well, averaging a double-double, so she was a known and sought-after commodity.
When she arrived in the city of nearly a million and met her new coach, though, she didn’t feel all that loved. Ceyhun Yildizoglu pushed and prodded, harassed and hounded. The man who also coaches Turkey’s national team wanted everything done the right way every time.
When rebounding free throws, Coach C wanted Paris to block out each time. Even if she got the board, he would get on her for not blocking out.
His insistence made her mad and frustrated and uncomfortable.
But as the months went on, Paris saw the results of Coach C’s attention to detail. She looked at the game differently. Played it differently, too.
“He challenged me every day,” Paris said, “and it was just good for me.”
Even though her averages went down with Mersin, Paris felt like she had the best overseas season of her career. So did Coach C.
“Take this season, and use everything you learned,” he told her right before she returned to the United States. “Go to the WNBA, and use this.”
One more bit of instruction from Coach C that she’s followed.
Re-signed by the Shock in April, Paris seized an opportunity when Liz Cambage decided to stay in Australia and prepare for the world championships. Paris won the starting center position coming out of training camp and has only cemented the spot as the season has gone on.
She doesn’t just lead the Shock in rebounds.
She leads the league.
Averaging 11.6 rebounds a game, she is one of only two players in the WNBA averaging double figures. And after a 12-point, 15-rebound performance Thursday in a win at Connecticut, she is just a smidgen from averaging a double-double this season.
She’s showing signs of the gal who dominated at OU, becoming the first college player, man or woman, to score 2,500 points and grab 2,000 rebounds.
Even after a stellar college career, people wondered if she’d be effective in the WNBA. Her game was power and brawn, and she went into the league at a time teams were gravitating toward post players who were more speedy and agile.
“It was all about what I wouldn’t be able to do at this level,” Paris remembers. “At first, that’s all I could focus on — ‘Man, I don’t know if I can do this. Man, I’m not a face-up player. I can’t do this. I can’t do that.’”
Paris still isn’t a face-up player. Speed and agility aren’t her greatest assets either. But at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, she doesn’t worry about what she can’t do.
She concentrates on what she can do.
“What separates me? What makes me capable of playing in this league?” she said. “That’s what I tried to focus on.”
Posting up. Blocking out. Grabbing boards. Clearing space.
But as much as her game has improved and developed, Paris is proudest of is the way she hung in there these past five-plus years. She achieved so many things so quickly in college, but then, it was the exact opposite as a pro.
Drafted No. 7 in 2009 by Sacramento, where she spent a year before the franchise folded. Signed by Chicago but cut before the 2010 season, which she spent out of the league. Signed by Los Angeles but cut before the 2011 season. Picked up later that year by Atlanta where she played 28 games before being cut again.
Even since Tulsa signed her, it hasn’t been an easy road. She played the entire 2012 season for the Shock, then re-signed for 2013 only to be cut when Cambage decided at the last minute to play instead of stay overseas. Then, Paris re-re-signed when Cambage was injured.
“There are different paths that people take,” she said. “Sometimes, it all happens at once, and sometimes, you have to go through the process. For me in this professional game, I’ve kind of had to go through the process.
“The thing I’m most proud of is, I’m still fine.”
Watch her play this season, and Courtney Paris seems better than fine.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.