By Jason Black
While the state of Oklahoma is quite adept at growing our own breed of gifted athlete, for the state’s first true women’s basketball superstar, it reached out to a place quite unlikely.
Stacey Dales grew up a long way from Oklahoma in the Canadian province of Ontario. She became one of the most accomplished women’s basketball players at the University of Oklahoma, and has now established herself as one of the faces of the NFL Network.
When Dales was 8 years old, her small town started a basketball league.
“All the boys played hockey, so the girls started playing basketball,” Dales said. She fell in love with the sport, but it wasn’t immediately her favorite.
“My first love was soccer,” Dales said. “I’m probably a better soccer player than basketball player, but basketball gave more of an opportunity.”
Dales started to get noticed by many American universities even though she played in another country. Soon, college coaches came calling, wanting Dales to bring her skills to their university. Dales was pretty much set on going to Syracuse, but then talked to University of Oklahoma Women’s Basketball Coach Sherri Coale.
“Coach told me she had a vision, and that was to win a national championship,” Dales said. Even though she had never been to Oklahoma, Coach Coale sold her on her vision and the Sooners. So, Dales committed to OU and came to the state of Oklahoma for the first time in her life.
While at OU, Dales was first team All-American and Big 12 Conference player of the year in 2001 and 2002. She is the Big 12 all-time career assist leader with 764 assists. She is also the first player in Oklahoma women’s basketball history to record 1,700 points, 600 rebounds and 700 assists in her career.
Dales played in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, representing her home country of Canada. Playing in the Olympics gave Dales a chance to participate at a higher level of competition, and showed her that she would need to improve her game to compete at the highest level. She brought that experience back to Norman, and didn’t look back.
As good as she was on the court, she was equally as good in the classroom, receiving the all sports Academic All-American of the Year in 2002. That same year, she led the Sooners to the NCAA Championship game, in which they lost to the UConn Huskies.
“From a freshman in 1997 to the National Championship game in 2002 was really special. We turned a program around, and it was probably my best memory in sports,” Dales said. “We did it with class and hard work, value, ethics and belief in one another.
In the 90’s OU had dropped the women’s program completely, albeit for a brief time. The fact that Coale was able to get to a national championship game in just a few years is nothing short of amazing, and Dales’ contribution played a major part in that.
After graduating with a Bachelors in Communications, Dales was drafted third overall by the Washington Mystics. This is the highest a Canadian has ever been picked. She was named to the All-Star team while with the Mystics.
“Washington was a team that led the league in attendance,” Dales said. “The WNBA has the best players in the world. Your play has to get better, and everybody is good.”
In addition to being drafted by the WNBA right out of college, Dales also got hired by ESPN to be a studio analyst and sideline reporter. “I knew I would play basketball, and when you do things you love, it leads to other opportunities,” Dales said. “You steal your opportunities, or you let them slip.”
Her television career started to take over, and she retired from the WNBA in 2004 for the first time. “You’re working two full-time jobs; I was running on empty,” Dales said.
When she wasn’t playing basketball, she was on a TV trip. She would land at a venue, get in a quick work-out at an auxiliary gym, then conduct interviews. The schedule proved to be too much, and Dales had to really examine which career she wanted to focus on: basketball or television.
“My body is still feeling the pains of playing basketball for 20 years of my life, and it was time to move on,” Dales said.