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Small schools aren't short on talent - a look at Oklahoma City University

OCU practice
OCU practice

National championships in 1988, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002. Sixteen total national tournament appearances, including two runner-up finishes and two back-to-back Final Four appearances in 2009 and 2010.

And no, we're not talking about a perennial powerhouse in the NCAA. We're talking about NAIA program Oklahoma City University.

Last night, the OCU Stars played an exhibition game against Missouri and came one shot away from winning in Columbia.

Depending on how avid a fan of the sport of women's college basketball you are, you might see some recognizable names from Division I programs on the OCU roster. Donica Cosby, a transfer from Arkansas and all-American last season. Taylor Booze, who came to OCU by way of Louisiana State. Desiree Jeffries, a name seen last year on the roster with Andrea Riley at Oklahoma State.

You might also see names that look familiar from junior college rosters or prep accolades in the region. Kayla MacKenzie, a freshman who made her marks on Arizona high school recordbooks. Tiffany Goldwire, a standout and teammate of Jeffries' at Del City High School that transferred to OCU from Northern Oklahoma.

You might even see a last name shared with a former NBA player and current referee, Haywoode Workman's daughter Chasity, who is playing her senior year for the Stars.

There are all-Americans, conference honorees, newcomers, role players - the traditional gamut that can be seen on most basketball benches. The list of accomplishments for the individuals on the roster could go on and on, but that's not the focal point once the women don the royal blue and white for the Stars.

What head coach Rob Edmisson wants you to see is above all else is a team.

"We talk about it every day, at some point; whether it be at practice or before practice or after practice or in a meeting," Edmisson says. "We talk about team chemistry, our players loving each other, being your sister's keeper, and understanding that no matter how much talent you can put on a team, if you don't like each other and respect each other and enjoy being with each other, we just wasted all the talent.

"That's going to be the key to our success, period. If this team stays together and does not let their individualistic goals get ahead of the team goals then we will be very hard to beat."

Missouri can now attest to the ‘hard to beat' moniker Edmisson tosses on the team. OCU battled back from a 13 point deficit to have a game-winning three pointer rim out at the final buzzer.

Yes, it's Missouri, who ended the 2009 RPI's as 107th out of 340 NCAA Division I teams nationally. But OCU isn't in the NCAA and their student body of 3,440 at the private Methodist institution doesn't quite have the recruiting draw or ability of some of their NCAA counterparts. Or maybe they do.

"Because we've been in back to back final fours, because we've won five national championships, we're one of those programs that it's just kind of known if you're a Division I transfer it's a good place to go," Edmisson says of his ability to get a look from players. "Number one, when kids leave Division I, they want the opportunity to play immediately. Because of transfer rules, they can transfer here and play immediately. Number two, when you're going to go play somewhere, a lot of kids look at where can I go where I have a chance to win a national championship."

And OCU seems to fit that bill.

Many of these young women aspire for careers in basketball, playing overseas or in the WNBA, or taking over the reigns of coaching someday, and Edmisson believes that for a few on this squad that dream of professional athletics could turn into reality.

"We've got several kids that will have that opportunity. Those kids if they will say grounded, stay focused and understand that they've still got to get better every day because when you go play overseas or play professionally it becomes a job.

"Whether or not they can handle - my job is to be a basketball player, that means I'm in the weight room two or three hours a day, I'm on the court shooting two, three hours a day, I go to practice two or three hours a day. To do that, you've got to be willing to say I'm going to commit seven or eight hours a day, like you would if you were working at the bank or working at the grocery store, it's an eight hour a day job. We've got several kids that have the talent and if they find the work ethic to go do that, yes they'll get that opportunity."

Before you dismiss Edmisson for coach-speak, think back a few years ago in the WNBA draft to the Mystics 33rd pick in 2006, Maryam Sy - an OCU product. Other former OCU alumnae have spent time playing in European leagues, making basketball more than just a college activity, but rather a genuine way of life.

No, you aren't going to see a Candace Parker or Maya Moore suiting up for OCU this season, but you'll see some true talent. And some of that talent you just might be seeing on the next level.

Few talk about programs other than the top-tier of NCAA Division I. But expand your basketball horizons, there are other divisions and levels, other players and teams that deserve recognition.

So this year, you'll get a taste of one of those 'other teams' as they strive to reach the pinnacle of the NAIA - the Oklahoma City University Stars.

OCU Stars Season Preview