Long-tenured OU coach Sherri Coale introduced a new element to her team’s training camp schedule this fall.
She has led Oklahoma to the NCAA tournament each postseason since 2000. But as she enters her 20th season at the helm of Oklahoma basketball, Coale added an entire week of camp focused on transition offense and defense.
Coale doesn’t believe her team can truly simulate game speed in practice. But with the help of strength and performance coach Brett Frantz, her team is physically well equipped for regular season play.
“Our guys are as prepared for game-type movement and stamina as any team I’ve ever had,” Coale said. “We were really able to learn transition without thinking so much about whether or not we’re out of breath or how wobbly our legs are. We didn’t have to deal with those factors. We were able to really learn why you do what you do in transition.”
Sophomore center Vionise Pierre-Louis wasn’t sure what she got herself into following an intense first day of camp.
She laid down in the locker room exhausted. The camp challenged Pierre-Louis’ limits, but overall, the 6-foot-4 post player felt it was great for her heading into her second season in Norman.
“I really had to love to run,” she said. “You have to really want it if you want to be the best in the Big 12 or best in women’s basketball in general. You have to love to run. That first camp really pushed me; it pushed my limits, and I really had to buckle down. You either love it or sit on the sideline and watch it.”
Pierre-Louis, OU’s leading shot-blocker as a freshman, is a year older and figures to better complement OU’s lone senior, veteran forward Kaylon Williams.
But the post players realize the concerted efforts for better transition play stems from the array of athletes returning for Oklahoma this season.
“Coach kind of recognized we do have a quick couple of individuals that we can use on the floor,” Williams said. “We have five guys that are really fast.”
While Williams admits that she's not part of that group, Oklahoma returns last season’s Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and Freshman of the Year recipients, as well as a few others expected for expanded roles.
Sophomore Gabbi Ortiz, who was crowned the Big 12’s top freshman last year, didn’t run-and-gun as much in high school. She’s expected to be the floor general, however, for OU’s run-heavy offense.
Ortiz spent her summer honing her skills with Team USA at the 2015 FIBA U19 World Championships in Russia. And despite collecting a gold medal, the OU starting point guard was a bit apprehensive for the team’s first week of camp.
“We were a little nervous, because we knew it was going to be a lot of running,” Ortiz said. “That was our big thing. We’re going to be committed to run every time down the court. I think we’re in better shape than I think we were. They pushed us, but we liked it.”
Ortiz believes the conditioning and focus on transition sets will benefit her team down the road. OU is in much different place than it was a year ago, however.
The Sooners broke in multiple new starters and fielded a combined 11 freshman and sophomore players last season.
Oklahoma’s young group finished 21-12, however, and boasted the second-best record in the Big 12 regular season standings.
OU enters this season ranked No. 17 in the AP Top 25 poll. And with one starter lost from last year’s group, sophomore Peyton Little believes the difference in OU is huge from where the team was entering last season.
“We’re a way different team than we were last year,” Little said. “We’re a lot more experienced. We feel more comfortable as a unit. We’re building on what we did last year and carrying it through it November once we get going.”