Love of the game: OU benefiting from Stevenson's growth in basketball
BY LYNN JACOBSEN World Sports Writer
Saturday, April 03, 2010
4/03/10 at 4:24 AM
NYESHIA STEVENSON believed her best sports in high school were track and field and volleyball.
She had the all-state honors to back it up.
Her favorite sport, though, was basketball.
So, when Oklahoma head coach Sherri Coale offered her a scholarship, Stevenson quickly accepted.
"I was a very, very good volleyball player and was very good in track," said Stevenson, who won individual state titles in the long jump, high jump and triple jump at Little Rock (Ark.) McClellan High School. "Basketball was something I was doing all my life. But I never thought I was very good at it. I didn't actually know the game. I just loved to play it. When coach Coale called, I was hooked."
Because of her athletic prowess, Stevenson had the quickness to penetrate into the post and get to the rim, if not the size (5-foot-9) to play in the low post.
"When we signed her, she was really raw," Coale said. "She was an athlete who had a very, very limited skill package. The ball came out of her hand a different way every single time she shot it. Her perimeter shooting touch was not very good. And that's probably being kind.
"So what she did was she got to the rim and she got to the rim and she got to the rim."
But there remained an absence of a 3-point scoring threat.
"She worked on her shot and she became the 3-point shooter that I couldn't convince to get to the rim," Coale said. "Finally over the course of this past year and a half, she's realized how to put those two things together and how one can complement another. She just got in the gear (against Kentucky).
"There were a couple of plays in the open floor where she came up with a rebound or came up with a deflection, turned into a steal and dribbled past two Kentucky players who were running full speed, without a ball. And these guys aren't slow."
The three-year progression of Stevenson as a player who can penetrate the lane or hit the pull-up jumper has culminated in the NCAA Tournament.
In four games, she is averaging 19.7 points per game and led Oklahoma in scoring with 21 against Notre Dame and 31 versus Kentucky, sending the Sooners to the Women's Final Four for the second straight season and third time overall.
Her turning point came in the Kentucky game, Coale said.
"We've had this conversation during countless games throughout the year," the OU coach said. "She knows she can get to the rim. She'll shake her head in agreement, but there's not really a buy-in there, a belief."
That was until Tuesday night.
"When I told her during a timeout that you can do that every time and you will make the layup, I saw in her eyes that she understood that she could do that," Coale said. "It became a priority for her."
And when the Sooners needed it most, Stevenson strapped them on her slender shoulders and carried them once again.
"I just knew I had to do something," Stevenson said. "I did not want that to be my last game."
As good as Stevenson is playing right now, Coale believes there is no ceiling for Stevenson.
"I don't think she's playing as well as she's going to play at the next level," said her coach. "I think she's probably piqued the interest of a lot of WNBA coaches."
Her progression, though, was a four-year process.
"She had to learn how to listen first, and then she had to learn how to do things that are hard," Coale said. "She figured out it hurts. But she's not going to die, and the result of having gone there and performed there is worth all the pain and then some. She's grown and progressed as much as any kid I have had in the program."
Hometown: Little Rock, Ark.
This season: Hit a
career-high nine 3-
pointers en route to a
career-high 32 points
in the Sooners’ win
over marist. She nearly
matched that in OU’s
88-68 win over Kentucky
in the Elite Eight,
finishing with 31 points.
Has put together four
strong NCAA Tournament
19.7 points per game,
including 21 in the win
over Notre Dame.
Career highlights: Led
Oklahoma to the largest
in the NCAA women’s
basketball history with
21 second-half point to
rally the Sooners from
a 52-26 halftime deficit
for an 86-75 victory
against California in the
finals of the Basketball
by the Bay tournament
on Dec. 13, 2008, in
San Jose, Calif. Averaged
9.2 points a game
as a junior to earn Big
12 Sixth Player Award.
Women’s Final Four
(3) Oklahoma vs. (1) Stanford
6 p.m. Sunday
Radio: KTBZ am1430
Lynn Jacobsen 581-8461
OU's Nyeshia Stevenson started out raw, according to coach Sherri Coale. She has transformed herself into an effective slasher with the ability to hit 3-pointers.
Stephen Pingry/Tulsa World
Nyeshia Stevenson (right) has had a big NCAA Tournament, averaging 19.7 points per game during Oklahoma's run to the Final Four. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World