A night to remember for Mr. Thunder

 

(Photo by Michael Kinney)

By Michael Kinney

If there was ever a player who epitomized the saying, ‘the numbers do not tell the whole story,’ it would be Nick Collison. The former Oklahoma City big man played 15 years in the NBA and posted modest statistics at best.

However, Wednesday night Collison was the center of attention before the Thunder took on the Toronto Raptors when he became the first player in Oklahoma City Thunder history to have his number retired. The man affectionately known as Mr. Thunder now has his No. 4 now hanging in the rafters at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

It’s an honor Iowa Falls native never saw coming.

“I could have never expected something like this,” Collison said. It’s really a special night for me and my family. It’s been a long run and to be able to have the career I had here, and have a celebration like that, I feel very fortunate.”

Collison was drafted in 2003 by the then Seattle SuperSonics. He stayed with the franchise when it moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder.

“It was difficult because I liked where I was at,” Collison said of the home he had made in Seattle. “When franchises move, it’s not easy for anybody. It’s a difficult thing. I liked where I was at. The team ended up moving. That’s the way the business works. Luckily, we came to a great place and it’s worked out incredibly for me and the team since then. I’ve really learned to love it here. People have been great to me. They were great to us from the very first day. Ended up becoming a special, special thing, coming out of a thing that was difficult at the time. Again, I’ve been really fortunate with the way things worked out for me.”

Over 910 regular season games, Collison averaged averages of 5.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.0 assist in 20.4 minutes per game. He also played in 91 postseason games where he averaged averaging 4.3 points and 3.8 rebounds in 16.8 minutes.

But those numbers do not tell everything that Collison meant to a franchise. The low-key, quiet leader was a glue guy. He did the things that went unheralded in the press but were key to helping build a title contending team.

“For me, it was just doing my job. Whatever experiences I had before I got here, the way I viewed playing and my job as a basketball player was to do as much as I could, do whatever it took to the best of my ability to help the team win,” Collison said. “I think you just do that day after day, and I think that’s what the culture is here. Just doing the work day after day. We started from scratch. Everybody knows the story. We weren’t very good. We had a lot of things to prove. We just did it by doing the work over and over again. I think that’s kind of what it is. There’s really no magic to it. You have to be able to accept responsibility and do the work.”

During his speech, Collison said the thing he missed the most was being around his teammates.

“I’ve always loved my teammates,” Collison said. “I always wanted my teammates to know that all I wanted was to help them win,”

This was shown by the number of former teammates who showed up in Oklahoma City to celebrate Collison’s honor. They include Kevin Durant, who sat up in the suites to watch the festivities.

The current members of the Thunder were also impressed with the entire ceremony.

“It was beautiful, it was really, really good. It was really good for the organization too, to retire the jersey says a lot about him,” Thunder center Steven Adams said. “It was really wonderful. I miss the old bastard. I miss him but it was a beautiful moment.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content provider with EyeAmTruth Media

Auto designer feels the need for speed

(Photos by Michael Kinney)

By Michael Kinney

For Team Speed

It was easy to spot. Despite the hundreds of cars from automakers around the world at the recent Oklahoma City International Auto Show, Kip Kubisz‘s creation could be spotted from across the Bennett Event Center.

The “Auto Show Alpha Concept Car,” with its vibrant red color and slick black trim, caught the gazing stare of everyone who got caught in its trap. Luckily for them, Kubisz was on hand to explain his vision of the concept car, which he imagines would be all-electric or at least hybrid. His is the first concept car ever produced by an auto show, which built the full-scale model after choosing Kubisz’s design as the winner of the OKC Auto Show’s design competition.

“It’s got a lot of different concept elements in it,” said Kubisz, pictured above at the show. The Lubbock, Texas-based artist elaborated on the “Auto Show Alpha Concept Car” in a recent profile. “With electricity powering [the Auto Show Alpha], you could use the electromagnetic power to get it going and for braking, as well,” he told the paper. “I’ve got a lot of concepts in my head of how the suspension would work, and how the power train would work, but those really aren’t involved in this stage of the model. It’s more of the exterior of the car so people can see the shape of the body.”

The 102nd edition of the Oklahoma City International Auto Show, which was held March 8 through 10, was the first show to display the Auto Show Alpha. The concept car is a full-size model made of high-density foam and polyurea coating, and of course, a smooth coat of cherry-red auto body paint. And as reported by The Oklahoman, the model was built locally by Oklahoma City-based Taylor Foam, which did an excellent job.

According to Kubisz, it took him six months to complete the design and 600 man hours to build it. Fortunately for him, it was the auto show that paid for it to be built.

“Having an opportunity to be the first auto show in the nation to produce something of this caliber is a big thrill for us,” Metropolitan Auto Dealers Association Chairman Laine Diffee said. “For it to be a full-size concept car model that has never been in public prior to this week just makes it even more impressive.”

“This vehicle would have no drivetrain, no axles,” said Kubisz while discussing the concept racing car at the Oklahoma City International Auto Show. “You got four electric motors: one in each wheel hub. Also, [because] it would be electromagnetic, you’d have magnets in the wheel and also magnets in the wheel well that would provide torque from the outside of the rim. Almost every other car, you’ve got an axle hitting the tire in the middle. You’ve got a lot more torque when you’re pushing from the outside of the rim instead of right in the center.”

Kubisz also wanted the Auto Show Alpha to be different from the race cars of today.

“Most race cars, all their ground effects and things are up top with big wings,” Kubisz said. “This one, because the airflow goes right through the car, all of my downforce elements are underneath. You see how the air flows right through the car.”

However, the question on everyone’s mind is: How fast can it go?

“It’s so hard to say,” said Kubisz. “Once again, it depends on the power plan. Conceivably, I can see it easily doing 350 mph. But it does depend on the power plan. And for racing, most tracks may not be able to get up to that speed.”

Kubisz doesn’t know if his concept will ever become a reality on the race circuit, but he certainly hopes so.

“I guess that depends on the reaction from it,” answered Kubisz. “Most race cars these days, the shape of them is dictated by the rules of the racing series. That’s what was fun about this: I had an open sheet to do whatever I wanted. There were no regulations on me. So, this is kind of my idea of what I wish racing would be like.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider with EyeAmTruth Media

No. 1 Baylor rolls to 10th title

(Photo by Michael Kinney)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – For the last four years, Baylor had made Oklahoma City a second home. In the three previous seasons, they had taken home the Big 12 Women’s Championship twice with their fans overrunning the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

With 2019 being the final season of the tournament being held in Oklahoma City before moving to Kansas City, the Bears made sure to close it out in style. They defeated Iowa State 67-49 Monday to win the program’s 10th tournament title in the 19 years coach Kim Mulkey has been head coach.

“I can’t say enough about the Baylor fans today,” Mulkey said. “They were loud and proud. They were here. Gotta keep doing it. Gotta keep feedin’ that monster.”

Baylor’s Kalani Brown was named the tournament’s MOP after posting 17 points and seven rebounds. The senior finished her Big 12 career with four regular-season championships and three tournament titles.

“We set goals in the beginning of the season. This was pretty much the final little mini goal before we make our run for the NCAA tournament,” Brown said. “So, I think that’s the only thing we haven’t checked off our list is the Final Four. Winning tonight should make our team more focused.”

Lauren Cox chipped in with 14 points, eight boards and three blocks. Chloe Jackson added 16 points.

No. 13 ISU was led in scoring by Alexa Middleton. She had a game-high 18 points on 7 of 12 shooting. Bridget Carleton added 13 points and six rebounds.

“I want to thank the people of Oklahoma City, the people here at Chesapeake Arena,” ISU coach Bill Fennelly said. “Our kids have been smiling since they landed and I’m going to get them to smile again before they leave. They provided our kids with a lot of memories and I hope that the people here enjoyed having Iowa State here.”

After finding themselves by 12 to start the game, it looked like Iowa State was on the verge of getting blown out in the first half.

However, the shooting of Middleton and the entire ISU defense allowed the Cyclones to reel the Bears back in as Baylor led 30-25 at halftime.

In the second half, whenever it looked like the Bears were on the verge of pulling away, the Cyclones wouldn’t let them get away. ISU trailed 48-44 going into the fourth.

However, in the fourth quarter, Baylor began to show why they are one of the top teams in the country. The Bears offense picked up in the paint behind Cox and Kalani Brown.

But it was Baylor’s defense that took over the night. They held the Cyclones to two points in the first five minutes of the quarter as they expanded their lead to 59-46.

Once Baylor got rolling, Iowa State had no answers and the Bears cruised the rest of the way.

“It’s a blessing to be with this team,” Jackson said. “This is a special team and it’s just surreal. This is what I came here for. I wouldn’t want to do it with any other group of girls.”

Michael Kinney is a freelance content provider with EyeAmTruth Media

Syring looks to take Thunder brand global

By Michael Kinney

The Journal Record

OKLAHOMA CITY – Will Syring has quite a view from his office on the top floor of Chesapeake Energy Arena.

The new vice president of corporate partnerships for the Oklahoma City Thunder looks down on an empty field surrounded by unused roads, railroad tracks and ongoing construction.

But that is not what Syring sees when he stares out on the undeveloped property.

“We’re the anchor tenant here,” Syring said. “There’s a 600-person hotel that’s going to be built. You’re going to have an auditorium outside that’s going to be built right next to our arena. This energy that’s in this city – I needed to be a part of it.”

The Thunder hired Syring last month to help navigate the NBA franchise into the future as a global brand.

“The NBA has created new rules, in some cases relaxed some rules, that allow teams to be more aggressive and more creative in the global space,” said Brian Byrnes, Thunder senior vice president of sales and marketing. “Part of what Will is bringing is experience in working in that space and will help us to develop global partnerships that right now are new to the team.”

As the head of corporate partnerships, Syring’s job is to lead the franchise’s business strategy to optimize sponsorship sales and brand activation. He and his team plan to leverage the Thunder and the NBA’s global platform to elevate and maximize brand awareness for new and existing corporate partners.

“We provide opportunities for those businesses to reach our fans wherever they are, and that’s what I do,” Syring said. “I always see the sales function of the department and the activation side of our business.”

Syring joined the Thunder in the first week of February after he left his position leading the goal sales team with the NBA’s Chicago Bulls. It was a move he never thought he would be making.

“I wasn’t looking to leave Chicago,” Syring said. “I had just bought a home. I have a 6-month-old at the house, at the time was 4 months old. I didn’t want to leave Chicago.”

But after visiting Oklahoma City, Syring said he saw the potential for him, his family and the Thunder.

“It quickly became apparent to me that (Chicago) wasn’t a place where I wanted to be,” Syring said. “I needed to be here. For me, it was about being a part of something that is continuing to grow.”

When it comes to making a connection with businesses in Oklahoma, Syring already has previous experience. Before going to Chicago, he worked for Learfield Sports in Tulsa from 2010 to 2012.

“I got familiar with some of the same clients that I work with now at the Thunder, and it was an interesting time in my life because I competed against the Thunder,” Syring said. “Even lost sponsorship opportunities to the Thunder at a time when I thought this was a college market.”

Syring didn’t join an organization that was floundering and didn’t have success. In fact, it was the opposite. The Thunder was already at the top of their game and one of the best in the NBA.

“We are consistently in the top 10 of sponsorship rankings, consistently in top five, recently top two in TV rankings and local market as you compare ourselves to the NBA,” Syring said.

Yet, Syring said he wants to take the brand to new places by establishing more national and global partnerships.

“I envision a world where we have more integrated, more collaborative partnerships that take advantage of the reach this brand now has,” he said. “I think we’re just scratching the surface on what this team can do.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider with EyeAmTruth Media

BCC teams up with Google, Thunder

By Michael Kinney

The Journal Record

Eran Harrill knows a thing or two about teamwork. As a sergeant in the Oklahoma National Guard, he witnessed firsthand the importance of groups coming together for a common goal during his tour of duty in Afghanistan.

While Harrill may not be wearing fatigues and roughing it in the desert, he is still working to bring different groups together. Now he’s just doing it as the chief executive officer of the Oklahoma City Black Chamber of Commerce.

One of Harrill’s missions as CEO is to help the chamber’s members learn to keep pace in this technology-driven era.

“When I took over the Black Chamber, it was something that I immediately saw as a need that needed to happen,” Harrill said. “And so I’ve always been cognizant of that and trying to look for ways that can continue to push that mission out there and accomplish those goals.”

That is why Harrill forged partnerships with Google and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The three groups have come together to create monthly workshops for the Black Chamber of Commerce to host for its members and other small business owners looking to use Google products.

Harrill first saw the value of Google in 2017 after attending a “Grow with Google” event at the Devon Boathouse.

“That’s when I really started seeing some of the deliberate efforts they were trying to do on their portfolio and the suite of products, to be able to help small business owners and entrepreneurs really get a leg up in some of the products that they were creating,” Harrill said.

The workshops cover a variety of topics each month. When the OKC Black Chamber of Commerce met Feb. 15, the subject was “Get Your Business Online.”

For two hours, Harrill went through ways different Google products could help business owners create a bigger and more effective imprint online. That is one of the reasons Joel Pendarvis of JP Accounting & Tax Services has been attending the workshops.

“I come to a workshop like this to get different strategies for optimizing my website, giving myself a better web presence,” Pendarvis said. “Also, I am a member of the Black Chamber and I come here to support one of my fellow Black Chamber members.”

Harrill explained to the small group at the Thunder Launchpad how the web is specifically working for businesses in Oklahoma with the help of Google. In Oklahoma alone, Google helped provide $532 million of economic activity for businesses, website publishers and nonprofits in 2017.

“(Google) gets small business owners being more recognized with the brand and using their suite of products in a way that they couldn’t do, or would cost them a lot of money to be able to try to get the word out that way,” Harrill said.

For the Thunder, being partnered with the Black Chamber of Commerce and Google is a way to continue to give back to the community and also showcase the viability of its Thunder Launchpad, which provides space and resources.

“We wanted to open up this space for nonprofit organizations, for-profit organizations, for educating small businesses, for educating youth, for educating veterans to better their careers,” said Karlis Kezbers, director of business intelligence and strategy for the Oklahoma City Thunder. “Then there is our partnership with Eran. We have hosted many events for the Black Chamber of Commerce, whether it’s at the arena or here at the Launchpad. We want to help support that as much as possible.”

So far in 2019, the Black Chamber of Commerce has hosted two Grow with Google events. Thirty people attended in January and 13 in February.

Harrill sees room for growth, but he knows the key continues to be getting the word out on how Google can work for people.

“We deal with a lot of entrepreneurs, people who are just starting their business. So this gives them an opportunity to improve their business presence on the web for free,” Pendarvis said. “That always helps. It doesn’t cost anything, there are no barriers for entry. It’s something you can do on your own and it also helps your business.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Football was always Murray’s first love

 

By Michael Kinney

Baker Mayfield created the blueprint last season when he won the Heisman and became the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. Along the way, he won a conference title and led the Sooners to the College Football Playoffs.

Kyler Murray has seemingly studied the path that Mayfield blazed and is trying to accomplish the same goals, including being the top pick in this season’s NFL draft.

So, it should not have been a surprise that Murray would show up at the Oklahoma-Texas basketball game to hoist up his Heisman trophy Saturday in front of the Sooner fans. It was the same move Mayfield did last year.

It was also the first time Murray was able to speak to local media since declaring he was passing on Major League Baseball and taking his talents to the NFL.

“For me, it was something I’ve known for a while. That organization, being with the A’s, was the best possible situation for me just because they were so great throughout the football season, kind of leaving me alone and letting me do my own thing,” Murray said. “And at the same time letting me know how much I meant to them and that type of stuff. Telling them was tough.”

Murray said he pretty much knew what he wanted to do the night Oakland drafted him on the first round of the MLB draft. But at the time he didn’t know if the NFL wanted him.

Then the 2018 season happened and everything changed.

“The night I got drafted to the A’s — obviously it was a great day of my life — but I’ve been a football player my whole life,” Murray said. “I didn’t know how the NFL felt about me before this season because I hadn’t played. Going into this [football] season, [the goal] was to put myself in the best position possible. Obviously, when you win, good things happen. A lot of good stuff happened this year.”

While it may have been tough for Murray at first to inform the As he wasn’t going to play for them, he wanted to reiterate that he is football is his future and if the As are holding out hope he will make his way to professional baseball at some point this year, they may be waiting a long time.

“I mean, they can hold out all the hope they want to,” Murray said. “I’m going to play football.”

As part of preparing for the NFL draft, Murray is currently preparing for the NFL Combines Feb. 26- March 4. Murray said he will be attending, but said he doesn’t know what activities he will take part in.

But without a doubt, the things most scouts will be focusing on is when he has his height measured. He has been listed anywhere from 5-8 to 5-11.

Since no quarterback has ever been drafted in the first round under 5-foot-10, Murray’s height will be the center of attention.

“That’s just who I am,” Murray said. “I am how tall that I am. I do enjoy being one of the smaller quarterbacks around the country. I always look to prove people wrong.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

 

Morris joins Thunder for final stretch

 

By Michael Kinney

The news crept out right before the all-star break, but the Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t make it official until Wednesday. Markieff Morris is now a member of the Thunder after signing him to a contract for the rest of the 2019 season.

Morris was a heavily sought-after commodity. Once the veteran big man completed his buyout from the Washington Wizards, he had his pick of a number of teams to play for to close out the 2019 season.

But for Morris, it came down to where he felt comfortable and where he could contribute.

“You can just see the passion they play with, the smiles, how happy they are for each other when the other one is going good,” Morris said Thursday after his first practice. “That as a player, that’s one of the best things you look for when you’re trying to pick a team, the family atmosphere and how guys feel about each other.”

Morris fits a few of the holes in the Thunder lineup they had been looking to fill. At 6-foot-10, 245 pounds, he beefs up the Oklahoma City frontcourt. He has the ability to defend the center and power forward spot as well as some small forward.

“Markieff has always looked at himself as a defensive-orientated player that can guard a lot of different positions,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “He’s got the ability to move his feet and play people on the perimeter and I think he’s got the size, the strength and the physicality to play guys from the low post.”

However, playing time won’t just be given to him. Because the frontcourt already contains Steven Adams, Jerami Grant, Nerlens Noel, Abdel Nader, he will have to work his way into the rotation.

“Kieff is battle-tested. He’s a playoff player,” Paul George said. “He has that toughness and that experience coming towards the playoffs. So our job for right now is to get him comfortable with us, get him used to the swing of things, our offense, our defense, because we’re going to need him. He’s a bigtime player come playoff time.”

In his 555 career games heading into Friday night’s action, Morris has a career average of 11.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists. This season with the Wizards, he appeared in 34 games (15 starts) and averaged 11.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 26.0 minutes.

Because of his tenure in the NBA Morris was already well known by several members of the Thunder. SO there was a whole lot of trying to figure things out.

“We welcomed him with open arms,” George said. “We had fun, walked him through plays and stuff, so he’s up to speed. But that was mostly everything that we wanted to give him. He’s a baller, he knows how to play. We just wanted to make him feel comfortable right away and just welcome him.”

Oklahoma City will be Morris’ third team since being drafted with the 13th overall pick in 2011 out of Kansas.

Because of his time in the Big 12 and years in the league, Morris said he is well associated with the fans in Oklahoma.

“The atmosphere is unbelievable. Every time I came to play here I always said this is one of the toughest places to play,” Morris said. “It’s right up the street from Kansas, so I’ve been here plenty of times and I’ve played here over 20 times when I was in college, so I’m used to it.”

Like many players on Thunder, Morris has yet to win an NBA title. He is hoping he can be the final piece needed to get them across the finish line.

I just came to try to help the team push to the ultimate goal and that’s winning a championship,” Morris said. “I’m just ready to play man. I’m excited to be here. I know a bunch of guys on the team already and I’m ready to go.”

Michael Kinney is a freelance content provider

 

MC Hammer takes up prison reform in Oklahoma

(Photo provided by The Last Mile)

By Michael Kinney

An hour after the Oklahoma City Thunder had defeated the Portland Trailblazers, Stanley Kirk Burrell was standing on the floor of the Chesapeake Energy Arena talking to fans. Better known as Hip Hop icon M.C. Hammer, he held a captivated audience with his stories and sheer personality.

Hammer was waiting around to meet Thunder Russell Westbrook after the game and take some pictures. However, that was not the reason the Oakland, Ca., native came halfway across the country.

What was primarily on Hammer’s mind that day was prison reform. Unfortunately for Oklahomans, there is no better location to talk about the prison system than the Sooner state.

Oklahoma has the highest incarceration rate in the nation at 1,079 per 100,000 people. Just as unsettling, the female incarceration rate is more than twice the national average.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Oklahoma has led the nation in female incarnation for more than 25 years.

“So I came here to go to the women’s prison, where we launched a program to teach the inmates how to become software people,” Hammer said. “I came here to go into the women’s institution, women’s prison, where we could teach them and equip them with a skill set to become software  engineers so that when they get out, they can get jobs in the tech industry.”

Hammer joined Gov. Kevin Stitt and a large group at the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McCloud to launch The Last Mile. The program was created to lower the recidivism rate by teaching inmate skills using software that will benefit them once they get out of prison.

“Our mission at The Last Mile is to provide marketable skills that result in gainful employment, because we believe that jobs are a critical component to successful reentry,” said Beverly Parenti, Executive Director and Co-Founder of The Last Mile. “When I learned that Oklahoma has the highest female incarceration rate, I knew we could have a significant impact on this population. The Last Mile’s coding program provides a multitude of opportunities for women, shifts perceptions, and returns graduates home to their communities and families in a positive way.”

Inmates at the Mabel Bassett correctional center are now able to enroll in the program, which lasts a year. In it they will build software engineering skills and learn languages like HTML, Javascript, CSS and SQL.

“This program gives our inmates something many have never had before – something to be proud of,” said Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Joe M. Allbaugh. “With the skills this program imparts, these students can leave their felony past behind, no longer be defined by it, and become functioning, participating members of society.”

Hammer has been part of The Last Mile for more than a decade when Parenti and her husband Chris Redlitz, came to him with their plan. After they explained it to him, he said he jumped in.

“Now we know, historically again, that tilts towards minorities, right? So what we need to do, is figure out how do we collectively break that mentality, that spirit, and those policies, so you’re not just throwing people in jail,” Hammer said. “Jail is not the answer. There are some people that definitely need to go, but jail’s not the answer.”

According to The Last Mile officials, 75 percent of the program’s 18 students are mothers with less than three years remaining on their sentences. They will join nearly 500 men and women across 12 prisons in four states that have moved through the program.

Wanting to make sure the prisoners do not return once they leave, Hammer said he had a personal message to Stitt.

“I thanked him for having an open heart and open ear. And at the same time, I reminded him that there’s no badge of honor to be the number one state in America for incarcerated women,” Hammer said. “Especially with the history that we have as men of the treatment of women, historically. And now to have any place where women are incarcerated more than men, is more than unacceptable. So we had that conversation, and I tip my hat to him. He said absolutely we got to fix this. So this is not the overall solution, but a start.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

New pitching coach keeps OU on track

 

By Michael Kinney

For Softball America

For 21 years, Melyssa Lombardi was right next to coach Patty Gasso as she built Oklahoma into a softball powerhouse. Through 12 Women’s College World Series appearances and four championships, she was one developing dominant pitchers and staffs.

But in July 2018, Lombardi got her shot to run her own program when she took the head coaching job at Oregon. That left Gasso with a massive hole to fill at pitching coach. Something she had not had to think about for two decades.

“Well, she was my right arm for over 20 years,” Gasso said of Lombardi. “I was so happy for her because she’s been waiting for so long for the right opportunity. She wanted to have an opportunity to go to a big-time program, so everything laid out, so I was very happy for her and the opportunity. At the same time, the idea of starting over and all of that was not appealing for me because I’ve been very comfortable in our routine and so forth.”

When Gasso started to lay out all the traits she was looking for in a pitching coach, there was one name at the top of the list.

“Jennifer Rocha. Successful, experienced, no ego, good person, connectability, loyal, knowledge obviously of the craft,” Gasso said. “As soon as I knew this was going, she was immediately the number one. It was a long shot, but I was going to go for it, and I had ideas of where to go next. But I really wanted to put my emphasis on Jenn.”

Rocha played at Oklahoma from 1996-98 and was a graduate assistant until 2001. So Gasso knew exactly what type of person she was trying to hire.

At the time of Lombardi’s departure, Rocha was working as the associate head coach and pitching coach at Florida. In her 13 years with the Gators, she had built a stellar reputation and was part of the coaching staff that won national championships in 2014 and ’15. Gasso knew prying her out of Gainesville would not be an easy chore.

“Just her history, where she’s at, her success, her connection with Tim (Walton). It just seemed like she was very grounded there,” Gasso said. “You never know until you ask, so I just kind of beat around the bush a little bit just to see if she was interested. She wanted to hear a little bit more, so that encouraged me. When the door opened, I just got in there quick.”

Gasso’s pitch worked, and Rocha was hired as the program’s associate head coach and pitching coach on July 18.

“I think OU has always felt like home to me anyway, just being an alum of the university and having played for coach Gasso,” Rocha said. “It’s always had a comfortable feel for me. It was a family move for me, ultimately. I’ve been happy with my decision and things are going really well here.”

Rocha brings to Oklahoma her own way of handling pitchers. She has developed a style that led her to being named the 2015 NFCA Assistant Coach of the Year.

“I really just try to take what our pitchers have, what they’re good at. We have the luxury here at OU to be able to recruit the top pitchers in the country and be able to land them. They come with an excellent set of tools already,” Rocha said. “Really, I just try not to mess them up. I really just try to take their strengths and help create some consistency with that. I just try to help them understand how to use those pitches in the game and really try to take their game savvy to a new level.”

Gasso was accustomed to Lombardi, but she doesn’t see a vast difference between her and Rocha.

“You know, they’re very much alike. I think coach Lombardi is very kind of drill-oriented,” Gasso said. “I think Rocha is more hands-on and demonstrating it and so forth. So they just have different styles of teaching, but they’re both very calm, they’re not real loud and bossy or anything like that. They have the same kind of demeanor, which is what I was looking for because it works and it works with me as well as the athletes.”

The Sooners will head into the 2019 season with a much different outlook on their pitching staff. Gone are Paige Parker and Paige Lowary, who were both drafted in the first round of the 2018 National Pro Fastpitch Draft last April. They handled the overwhelming majority of the pitching duties.

Rocha’s recent staffs have relied primarily on one or two key arms. In 2018, Kelly Barnhill (29-3) and Aleshia Ocasio (23-7) combined to pitch 378 innings.

But this campaign, the Sooners are not expected to have one lead ace carrying the team. Instead, Rocha and Gasso will be looking at more of an actual staff to handle. They include recent transfer additions Giselle “G” Juarez and Shannon Saile as well as returners Parker Conrad, Mariah Lopez, Nicole Mendes and freshman Brooke Vestal.

“I feel like right now we’re truly built to be a staff. I know we had two horses that left, absolute, amazing, all-Americans that left,” Rocha said. “We really are really trying to tie things up with our staff. We have a bunch of different looks that we can show teams. I’m hoping that we’re going to be tough to prepare for because we do have so many different looks that we can throw at you. They’re going to be quality, so I’m excited about that. It’s going to be a little bit of a challenge because we do have so many options, but I’m also looking forward to the challenges that (my pitchers will face) when it’s their turn to have the ball.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider