NORMAN, Okla. — Eden Williams was driving. Tara Dunn was asleep in bed. Both received the same call.
It was their volleyball coach, Santiago Restrepo, asking them if they might like to play basketball for Sherri Coale and the 18th-ranked Sooners.
Williams may have been flabbergasted. She was at Lloyd Noble Center the night Whitney Hand tore the ACL in her left knee, and she figured, down to eight players, the Sooners might need a little help.
“But the last person I probably thought they’d want is a volleyball player or anything like that,” she said.
Dunn accused Restrepo of playing a joke on her. He said he was serious. She said she’d call him back.
“I called my parents because I was kind of in shock,” she said.
Those calls led to tryouts, then a meeting, then an invitation to join the squad. Thursday was their second day of practice.
Officially, Dunn is a 6-2 redshirt freshman forward from Poth, Texas, where not so long ago she was co-district MVP, playing Class 2A basketball about 35 miles southeast of San Antonio. Also, she’s probably the best outside hitter playing Big 12 basketball.
Williams, already an academic senior, is nonetheless a basketball-playing redshirt sophomore. A defensive specialist for the volleyball Sooners, on the court to keep points going and get the ball to her setter, she is a 5-3 guard on her new team. A three-sport athlete from Amarillo High School, if Martin Smith’s track-and-field Sooners ever need a pole vaulter, she might be able to fill in there, too.
“They’re extra bodies for rotations and drills. They’re encouragers,” Coale said. “It’s sometimes refreshing to watch our guys relax a little bit when they’re telling Eden and Tara what to do … Now that they have somebody to teach it to, it becomes easier for them.”
Can Williams and Dunn help on the court?
“Oh, maybe,” Coale said. “It’s way to early to tell.”
Still, the move is paying off in some ways already. As Coale reports, teaching the new players has aided to clear the minds of the original players, making for crisp practices. Also, more players can better absorb a demanding drill session.
“It definitely takes some of the exhaustion away,” Sooner guard and leading scorer Aaryn Ellenberg said. “We’re going extra reps all the time. It does help with that.”
There was always familiarity.
As a unit, the basketball team is a regular for Sooner volleyball at Howard McCasland Field House. Most of the players already knew Dunn and Williams well.
Additionally, Dunn and Williams are quite used to a serious and successful collegiate athletic program. Their volleyball season ended Jan. 1 in the second round of the NCAA tournament, the same round Sooner women’s basketball exited last season’s NCAA tournament.
“They’re just two really remarkable young women and you don’t even think about adding somebody unless you have that,” Coale said. “Anything else you get is going to be gravy, and it’s already made practice feel a little better.”
Of course, in the face of so much injury, new blood makes for a good story, at least until the Sooners get back on the game court at 2 p.m. Saturday against Cal-State Northridge.
“I never really thought I’d play basketball again,” Dunn said, “but here I am.”
“When I was little,” Williams said, “I honestly thought I wanted to play college basketball.”
Now she is, too.