Oklahoma star Keilani Ricketts and South Florida coach Ken Eriksen energetically chatted and laughed with each other as they sat side-by-side before Wednesday's Women's College World Series press conference began.
They looked like old chums catching up, not a player and coach who will be in opposite dugouts when OU and USF begin WCWS play against each other at noon Thursday at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
But Ricketts and Eriksen do have a familiarity with each other, as Eriksen coached Ricketts and fellow Sooner Jessica Shults with the U.S. National Team during last summer's World Cup of Softball.
Eriksen is known as one of the sport's most colorful and engaging personalities. That was on full display Wednesday, when he jokingly called Ricketts and Shults “pains in the butt” before seriously gushing about his experience coaching both players. He even compared Ricketts, the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year, to Babe Ruth because of her dominance both in the circle and at the plate.
“There wasn't many people that could be in the circle or be on the mound and throw the ball as well as Babe Ruth and Keilani did, and hit as well as Keilani did, also,” he said. “But more than anything else, she's probably one of the most humble people in the world that I've ever met, and Jessica is right along those types of lines.”
Ricketts and Shults were fully exposed to Eriksen's often-zany character while capturing the World Cup of Softball title. Shults' favorite memory was him rapping to Sir Mix-A-Lot's “Baby Got Back” on a bus trip, calling it “the funniest thing I've ever seen.”
But there's a method behind the goofball demeanor. It helps create a calm and relaxed coaching style and attitude within the team, which Shults said works perfectly for international play. Ricketts said Eriksen always knew how to turn a tense moment into a stress-free one.