COURTNEY PARIS'Sfondest memory since arriving at Oklahoma six months ago isn't her first doubledouble (24 points, 10 rebounds in 20 minutes against Wisconsin-Milwaukee onNov. 11) or her 18th and most recent (18 points, 14 rebounds against TexasA&M on Saturday). Nor is it any of the record five times that the 6'4"freshman has been named the Big 12 Rookie of the Week. Her favorite moment camein early September, on the first day of the team's preseason conditioningprogram. After a full hour of lunges, sprints, agility drills and assortedother tortures that make up Oklahoma's training regimen, Courtney and her6'3" twin sister, Ashley, thought they were going to keel over and die. ¬∂"That was the toughest thing I've ever been through in my life, but it wasalso the best thing about being here so far," says Courtney. "Ash and Ihad never done anything like that before, and we were falling down everywhere.Our teammates were just as tired as we were, and we were bigger than they were,but they held us up. I'll never forget that. I would do anything for thosegirls." ¬∂ Courtney has done plenty already.
In 21 gamesthrough Sunday she is the major reason the Sooners have made the jump from amiddle-of-the-pack Big 12 club to one with a shot at the national title.Oklahoma, which finished 17-13 and lost in the first round of the NCAAtournament last season, started 7-0 in the conference and 17-4 overall, movingup to No. 11 in the nation-its highest ranking since the final poll of 2002.Courtney's 21.2 points, 14.8 rebounds and 3.19 blocks per game were tops amongfreshmen nationwide, and she led the Big 12 in all three categories. Aprecocious and charismatic player reminiscent of former Sooners great WaymanTisdale, who led the nation's freshmen in scoring and rebounding in 1982-83,Courtney has helped drive attendance at Sooners women's home games to analltime high average of 6,316 and rising.
"Everybody inNorman loves the twins," says junior forward Krista Sanchez. "They'rereally good, but they are also funny and humble and hardworking. Nobody wantsto miss them in action."
Much was expectedof the towering daughters of former San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman BubbaParis, especially from Courtney, who was USA Today's 2005 national high schoolplayer of the year out of Piedmont (Calif.) High. She had little troubleadjusting to the college game, but opponents have struggled to adjust to her."I've seen a lot of different defenses," says Courtney, who decided ingrade school to model her game after Shaquille O'Neal's and has since earnedthe nickname Baby Shaq. "But I've been able to do what I've done all mylife."
And that'sdominate in the paint. With her preternatural poise, powerful 225-pound body,nimble feet and "vacuum hands," as Southern Methodist coach RhondaRompola calls them-"If you throw the ball anywhere near her," Rompolasays, "it gets sucked right in"--Courtney has statisticallyoutperformed the three All-America post players she's gone head-to-head againstthis season: Jessica Davenport of Ohio State, Sophia Young of Baylor andTiffany Jackson of Texas.
"I have nevercoached against anyone who is so confident and so dominant," says Rompola,whose Mustangs yielded 19 points and 20 rebounds to Courtney in her second gameas a collegian. "If I were coaching in the Big 12, I'd be hoping she'ddeclare herself eligible for the [WNBA] draft. She's the type of player youcan't stop."
At the same timeAshley, the quieter, older twin (by two minutes) who was Blue Star'seighth-best prospect in the recruiting class of '05, is having what wouldtypically be considered a very good freshman season. Averaging 21.5 minutes pergame off the bench, she has contributed 6.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and threedouble doubles at forward. But she doesn't mind that Courtney gets most of thepublicity. "She's my sister," says Ashley. "Even if she weren't onmy team, I'd want her to get attention. I'm a lot of things, but jealous isn'tone of them."
Oklahoma coachSherri Coale says it's important for those inclined to compare the twins tounderstand the differences between the two. "Ashley is not anunderachiever; she's normal," Coale says. "Courtney is justextraordinary. She has these physical gifts, but she also has that unflappablecompetitive mentality that separates the great players-the Cheryl Millers, theChamique Holdsclaws, the Diana Taurasis-from the really good players."According to Coale, Ashley has a better perimeter game and is a better face-upshooter than her sister. "We'd like to see her extend that part of hergame."
Courtney says shegets her unshakable confidence from her dad, who as a Michigan freshman in 1978started two games at tackle. The twins also get much of their size andathleticism from Bubba, who was 6'7" and weighed well over 300 pounds whenhe won three Super Bowl rings with the 49ers in the '80s, but he doesn't takemuch credit for their prowess on the court. "I was a 20-20-20 man in highschool basketball: I played when we were 20 points up, 20 points down or with20 seconds left," says Bubba, who nevertheless is the point guard for ateam of retired 49ers who play in charity games. The twins' 6'1" mom, LynneHarris (she and Bubba divorced in 1993, and each remarried), didn't playsports, but her three older brothers got athletic scholarships to college. Oneof them, Leonard Gray, was a forward for the Seattle SuperSonics in themid-'70s.
Not surprisingly,all five of Bubba and Lynne's children played college sports. David, 22, was aforward on the Cal basketball team the past three seasons; Austin, 20, playedwide receiver for one season at St. Mary's (Calif.) before football was droppedthere; and Brandon, 19, was a walk-on reserve fullback at UCLA as a freshman in2004.
"We played inthe driveway against our three brothers, and they were brutal," saysCourtney of teaming with Ashley. "If you can go up against my brothers,there is no girl who is going to scare you."
While the twinswanted to play point guard as often as their club team and high school coacheswould let them, Courtney mostly played post and Ashley moved among all fivepositions. They led Piedmont High to back-to-back California Division IV titlestheir junior and senior years and chose Oklahoma over Cal, Connecticut,Syracuse, Texas and UCLA because, says Ashley, "This is where we felt mostcomfortable."
Adds Courtney,"I knew this was a team I could contribute to. But as far as my numbers,well, that's been a nice surprise."
In Norman, wherethe twins are, as always, roommates, they've maintained their passions forwriting (Courtney keeps a journal) and fishing, and developed new ones."Courtney comes into the locker room singing a different country-music songevery day," says junior guard Erin Higgins. "And she sings it till itwears you out." This semester the twins are taking beginner's piano, adecision inspired by Courtney's USA Basketball under-19 teammate EssenceCarson, a guard-forward at Rutgers who is an accomplished pianist. "Shewould play in hotel lobbies this summer, and it was so beautiful to listento," says Courtney. "She has no idea how happy she can make people justby playing. I want to do that."
On a differentstage, by virtue of a different gift, she already does.
Read more about women's hoops each Wednesday in KelliAnderson's Mailbag at SI.com/collegebasketball.
Modeling her game after Shaq's, Courtney is an immovable force in thepaint.
From Bubba (at right, center), Courtney and Ashley (5) got their height andathleticism.