They are two coaches fighting to achieve the same goal every season in different parts of the country. They both run elite programs. One just happens to be regarded as the one of the best there is and the other is just a step or two behind. Geno Auriemma and Sherri Coale are two of the most charismatic coaches in the business. They are walking sound bites, always well dressed and always looking for a new way to better the game as the current cabinet of the WBCA. Coale serves as president. Geno as VP.
But, most of all, they are very good friends too. They talk often, although Geno says that Sherri is not much fun to be around the night before a game. Maybe it’s because her Sooners are 0-6 against the Huskies heading into tonight’s game at Gampel Pavilion. I wouldn’t be much fun either if I kept losing to the same time each time we played.
“I just think that we have one of those friendships that’s going to endure and endure because it was created based on a sincere appreciation for what the other did in this profession,’’ Coale said. “And we have a lot of common interests and we see the game the same way, and whether we’re competing against one another for the same title or working together for the good of the growth of the game I think we’re always going to be good friends. And I always feel blessed by his friendship and feel very fortunate to have had him as a mentor, really, over the last 10 years.’’
Make that 10-plus years. They first met when Geno was recruiting Stacy Hansmeyer out of Norman (Okla.) High School where Sherri was the head coach. Stacy went on to win a national championship at UConn in 2000 and is now in her eighth season as an assistant under Sherri.
Geno liked the way Sherri ran her practices back then, the way she interacted with people and how much she had a hand in what was going on with her team. Once she was hired at Oklahoma in 1996 he made it a point to help her and her program gain national exposure. That’s one of the reasons why he agreed to play in Norman for the first time Dec. 29, 1999. The Huskies were No. 1 at the time and the game drew 10,713 at the Lloyd Nobel Center.
Two years later, UConn and Oklahoma met in the NCAA tournament final in San Antonio.
“For a high school coach, I thought what was pretty impressive,’’ Geno said. “The quality of the drills and what they were teaching. And we just kind of got to talking a lot of basketball, different ideas and different things. Then I ended up coaching a junior national team (in 2001), and she was one of the people that was involved. She ended up being one of my assistants. It’s been a great relationship on a lot of different levels. And I think she’s as good a coach as there is in the country in every aspect: promoting her program, recruiting, teaching the game. I don’t think there’s very many people who do it better than she does.’’
Courtney Paris has had plenty of help during her career. She credits her Piedmont (Calif.) High coach Bryan Gardere. She credits Coale, and she also gives credit to the impact Hansmeyer has had on her over the years. And, by now, she knows exactly why she was affectionately called `Bam Bam’ during her playing days at UConn.
“I love Coach Hansmeyer,’’ Courtney said. “I’m probably closer to her than anybody in Oklahoma. She recruited me and I have a lot of respect for her. So I’m really close to Stacy. She’s tried to (toughen me up). She works with the wing players more now, but last year she used to work with us posts and we definitely understand why her nickname was `Bam Bam.’ She fouls pretty hard. She’s pretty aggressive. But she teaches us to play hard like that. And she’s in charge of rebounding so we definitely have learned to block out at a new level with her. So she does a great job.’’
Here’s Sherri’s take on Paris’ NCAA record streak of 97 straight double-doubles:
“I don’t think that I really can put that in any sort of perspective,’’ she said. “Her double-double streak is beyond phenomenal. Obviously, nobody’s ever done it before. But the sheer madness of being able to do night after night after night after night after night regardless of competition, regardless of venue, regardless of whether a kid feels well or not. There are just so many different things that could come into play and I think the consistency with what she’s gone about that is mind-boggling. I don’t think any of us will really appreciate it in a way that it probably should be appreciated until long after the streak is finished.’’
Enjoy the game.