Sherri Coale, Natalie Williams headline women’s basketball hall class of 2016

In this March 23, 2015, file photo, Oklahoma head coach Sherri Coale claps as her team plays Stanford during the first half of a women's college basketball game in the second round of the NCAA tournament in Stanford, Calif. Sherri Coale will headline the 2016 women's basketball Hall of Fame induction class, a person familiar with the situation said Thursday, July 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
In this March 23, 2015, file photo, Oklahoma head coach Sherri Coale claps as her team plays Stanford during the first half of a women’s college basketball game in the second round of the NCAA tournament in Stanford, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said it was a surreal moment when she got the phone call that she would be part of the women’s basketball Hall of Fame.

The Hall announced its six-person 2016 class on Saturday, headlined by the longtime leader of the Sooners. It also includes former Missouri State guard Jackie Stiles, Olympic gold medalist Natalie Williams, longtime official June Courteau, Texas girls high school coach Joe Lombard and the late AAU girls basketball official Bill Tipps. The 1996 U.S. women’s basketball Olympic team will receive the Hall’s trailblazer award.

“I still feel like I’m young in my coaching career and still have so much left to do,” Coale said in a phone interview. “I’m honored beyond belief.”

Coale has led Oklahoma to three Final Fours since taking over the program in 1996, and the Sooners have made the NCAA Tournament in 16 straight years. The four-time Big 12 coach of the year has guided the Sooners to four league tournament titles and the team has won or shared six regular-season championships.

“I think when you think about how she took a job that’s not an easy job, in her hometown, and then played in three Final Fours and a championship game and built a program that’s as good as anyone else in the country, that’s something,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “Her being an ambassador for the sport that she is and being a great teacher, she represents everything that’s good in our sport. Those are the people we should be celebrating. I’m thrilled for her.”

Coale was happy that Stiles would be inducted the same class next June in Knoxville, Tennessee.

“I remember sitting in her living room and begging her to come play for us,” Coale said laughing. “She was remarkable, one of the best offensive players I’ve seen and ever will see. Her work ethic, her commitment, her drive and discipline. What she did to become the player she was is stuff of legend. She wasn’t an urban myth, she was for real. She’s a kid who inspired every little kid to go in the driveway and get better. She’s living proof that if you work hard enough and long enough good things can happen.”

Stiles finished her career at Missouri State with 3,393 points, the most in NCAA history. The 5-foot-8 guard capped off her college career by leading her fifth-seeded team to the Final Four in St. Louis in 2001. That was the last time a mid-major school reached the women’s national semifinals.

Stiles went on to win rookie of the year in the WNBA that year with the Portland Fire. A variety of injuries unfortunately prevented her from finishing another full season in the league

Natalie Williams
Natalie Williams

Williams starred at UCLA in basketball and volleyball. She helped the Bruins win national volleyball titles in 1990 and 1991. Williams played in the ABL for the Portland Power before it folded. She was the league’s MVP in 1998 and grabbed a league-record 22 rebounds in a game that season. She had a brief career in the WNBA playing for her hometown Utah Starzz and was a member of the 2000 gold medal-winning Olympic team.

Courteau was a women’s basketball official from 1968 to 2011 and participated in 12 Final Fours and five national championship games. She also officiated in the WNBA from 1997-2011. Courteau is now the NCAA coordinator of officials.Lombard has won more than 1,200 games — winning a thousand before his 100th defeat. He was honored last year with the Morgan Wootten Award for lifetime achievement in coaching high school from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Tipps was a chairman of AAU girls basketball for many years as well as a member of the nominating committee for the women’s basketball Hall of Fame. He was also on the Olympic selection committee. Tipps died in 2011.


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