At first, I didn’t want to write anything about Courtney Paris saying she would pay back her scholarship if Oklahoma didn’t win the national championship.
Mostly because I figured it’s one of those things that gets blown out of proportion and twisted into something that it really isn’t, so why possibly add to that? But here I am writing something anyway, because I do have a few things to say.
Courtney Paris is a terrific person, the epitome of what people hope their school’s student-athletes will be. I don’t believe it ever crossed her mind that she might be sending out some kind of “message” to UConn or any other team. Her message was intended for the Oklahoma fans and the program to which she feels indebted. Why does she feel so deeply in that regard? Here’s some insight.
Many people may not know that all 15 of the women’s basketball scholarships at Oklahoma have been endowed – something the program, its supporters and coach Sherri Coale should be very proud of accomplishing during Coale’s tenure.
Each scholarship is named after the endower(s) or someone the endower(s) can specify. And each is linked to what’s called a “foundation player” – someone who made essential contributions to the OU program _ and also linked to all subsequent recipients.
For instance, Courtney Paris is receiving the Austin Scholarship, named for endower Jimmie Austin. Its foundation player is Stephanie Simon. The past recipient before Paris was Lauren Shoush.
Courtney’s sister Ashley Paris is receiving the Noble Scholarship, named for the late Mary Jane Noble. The foundation player is Stacey Dales, and the past recipient is Laura Andrews.
To fully understand what Noble meant to Sooner women’s sports, please click here and read Coale’s tribute to her from October 2007. (That will take you to Coale and Courtney’s blog archive from the 2007-2008 season, and it is the fifth post down. Although you might want to read every post, because they are so entertaining and thoughtful.)
Coale intended for this endowment setup to make each Sooner feel a very personal bond and responsibility to her scholarship, to know about the donor(s) who provided the funds and those players who’ve previously benefited from that gift. Thus, no woman will ever play for Oklahoma without learning about the program’s past and its benefactors.
I think it’s important to be aware of all this when evaluating what really motivated Courtney’s statement. There was no “brag” or “confrontation” in what she said. Rather, it was a heartfelt message that she felt she “owed” a national championship to the fans, her scholarship endower and the university. And she believes she would be letting them down if she doesn’t help deliver one.
Thus, she feels if it doesn’t happen, she should have to “pay” for it. That’s how keenly she appreciates getting the Austin Scholarship.
Of course, what she said will be misinterpreted by plenty of people, and that’s unfortunate. But also inevitable. I wish she wouldn’t have said it for that reason, but by the same token, I admire where her sentiment is coming from.
However, I also think she’s looked at this in too narrow a way. What both Courtney and Ashley Paris have brought to their university, the Big 12 and the women’s basketball community long ago exceeded the value of their scholarships.
If you polled Oklahoma’s women’s basketball fans, I’d bet they would say they are in the Paris twins’ debt, not the other way around.
We keep score of games, we track standings, we give individual awards, we give team trophies and we applaud the eventual champion. But winning a championship is not the sole measure – or even the most important measure – of success for a student-athlete.
It just isn’t. Many, many great college basketball players never won an NCAA title. Some never made it to a Final Four. Take Lisa Leslie, for example, whose Southern Cal teams did not get further than the Elite Eight. That didn’t exactly keep her from having a legendary career.
A lot of winning a national championship is timing and circumstance. It’s what you run into in the bracket, and perhaps even where/when you play. And it’s occasionally just good or bad luck, for lack of anything more erudite to call it.
Sometimes, the best team doesn’t win the title. Sometimes, it does. Sometimes, there is no “best” team – just a survivor among the best.
Whatever happens in this season’s NCAA tournament, if Courtney Paris does end up someday giving the university money that’s equivalent to her scholarship, neither she nor anyone else should think of it as “paying back.” It would be “paying forward” – money that would be invested in someone else’s future.
And I hope that Paris deep down knows that what she’s done with the last four years of her life already has had immeasurable positive impact.