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Oklahoma women's basketball: Pierre-Louis excels on court while eyeing return to Haiti

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Vionise Pierre-Louis

Junior center Vionise Pierre-Louis avoids defenders. The Sooners beat Texas Tech 66-45 during the Jan. 14 game, finishing 21 points ahead.

When she first stepped off the plane in Haiti in the fall of 2012, Sherri Coale knew she was in for a challenge.

After an hour-long drive through rice fields, multiple villages and a litany of potholes, the OU women's basketball coach finally reached her destination. She had arrived at the home of Viguens Pierre-Louis, the father of a player she was recruiting.

“When you recruit a student-athlete you have to connect with their family,” Coale said.

In this case, it was a special family. Coale was recruiting a woman who, since she was 5 years old, dreamed of running her own hospital in Haiti.

“‘I want to be a doctor,’” she would tell her mother, Saintelise Glaude. “She was like, ‘Baby girl, what type of doctor?’ I was like ‘I don’t know, a doctor.’”

Now a junior center at the University of Oklahoma, Vionise Pierre-Louis still has the same goal. Coale earned her signature, in part, by making the nearly 2,000-mile trek to Haiti to meet and have dinner with Vionise Pierre-Louis' father.

“She flew out to Haiti and met my parents,” said Pierre-Louis, who has become one of Oklahoma’s most important players. “That’s one of the biggest things that got me to go here. Like who would go out of their way to fly to Haiti to meet my parents?

“My dad is very involved in my life, even though he’s in Haiti, and he pushes academics a lot. So for Coach Coale to fly and make my dad a part of it, she was the first to make my dad feel (like) a part of the recruiting process.”

Her recruiting strategy may have been unorthodox, but Coale knew from the first time she met Vionise Pierre-Louis — who goes by Vivi — that she was something special.

The 6-foot-4-inch center could do anything asked of her on the court, but it was who she was off the court that stood out the most.

Today, Pierre-Louis is dominating both the court and the classroom, making strides toward turning her vision into a reality.

Born in West Palm Beach, Florida, and a daughter of two Haitian natives, Pierre-Louis was raised by her mother for the majority of her life because her father was deported to Haiti. Pierre-Louis was inspired by her parents’ will for a better life.

“I look up to my parents. I want to be as hardworking, as driven as they are,” Pierre-Louis said. “To see as much as they did in life, coming to America with nothing and building something out of that. That’s like the fairy tale dream that you want to live by.”

She grew up with four brothers — including one named Stanley, who influenced her to play basketball. Stanley would bully her into going to the park with him until she finally decided to play with her school team in seventh grade.

Pierre-Louis attended Grandview Preparatory School in Florida, where she became one of the top prospects in her class. She eventually signed with OU and is in a planned program — another step in achieving her dream of becoming a doctor in Haiti.

Current teammate and roommate Gilly Penzo says her friend’s goal is pretty simple: to give back to her country.

“I feel like it’s awesome. Vivi is such a nice person that she just wants to give back to her country, give back to women that don’t have that opportunity to have really nice care at the hospitals,” Penzo said.

One activity Pierre-Louis has participated in since attending Oklahoma is the Sooners 4 Haiti trip, which takes place every year. This program allows Oklahoma student-athletes the opportunity to travel to Haiti for a week and help those in need — something that hits home for Pierre-Louis. In fact, it was one of the factors that brought her to Norman.

“When I came here, like, you can’t say no,” Pierre-Louis said. “They felt like they were my sisters, and then on top of that they do community service. Coach Coale is so big on people, not just basketball players. I don’t think I’m a basketball player. I think I’m a person first, then a basketball player. She was big on building women and developing women, and I just love that about the program.”

Since she was very young, Pierre-Louis has returned to Haiti every break to see her family. Each time she goes back, she’s even more motivated to help people in need.

“Every time I go back to Haiti and do some type of community service or see my family and the people that have less than me, that’s always motivation to go back and want to help,” Pierre-Louis said.

Currently, Pierre-Louis is in her third year at Oklahoma and having the best season of her career. She’s averaging over 10 points and eight rebounds a game and is the reigning Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year.

Off the court, Pierre-Louis is continuing to take steps toward becoming a doctor and hopes to someday travel the world to learn about other countries that lack resources.

Pierre-Louis had a dream when she was a kid, and now she’s finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“God brought us here for a purpose, and it’s to help,” Pierre-Louis said. “Jesus was here and he helped the poor, he helped the sick, he helped people that weren’t able to fend for themselves. I want to be something like that. I want to help as many people as I can.

“I can’t say a set number. I can’t say I want to be a millionaire. I don’t want to be rich by the time I’m 50, but I just want to help as many people as I’m able to.”

George Stoia joined The Daily in the fall of 2016 as a sophomore and has covered the soccer team, both men's and women's basketball, as well as the football team for the past three years. He graduates in May 2020.

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