Through It All

BY SAHARA WILLIAMS

This series is brought to you by United Dairy Industry of Michigan.

To say that I’ve been through a lot would be an understatement.

My parents split up when I was eight years old. 

My mom was incarcerated right before I started high school. 

On top of starting high school without my mom, my grandpa, who was instrumental in my upbringing, passed away. 

Then, we were evicted from our home. 

Life was hard, and if I’m being honest, I wasn’t sure what to do next with my life. 

Now, I’m not telling you all of this so that you feel sorry for me. 

This isn’t a sad story. My life isn’t some heartbreaking story. It’s a story about perseverance. 

I’m telling you all this to show how far I’ve come. 

And how much being a Sooner means to me. 

Why does it mean so much to me?

Oklahoma, Coach Jennie and the OU family have always had my back. 

My relationship with Jennie goes back to when I was in the seventh grade over six years ago. 

She was one of the first college coaches ever to contact me.

She saw something in me that other people didn’t back then.

I was just a kid from Waterloo, Iowa.

The definition of a blue-collar recruit, and while other schools backed off me because of circumstances out of my control, Oklahoma took me for who I was. 

I knew that OU made sense from a basketball perspective.

I fit perfectly into Coach Jennie’s style of basketball, and after going through the entire recruiting process, I knew that OU was the best fit for me in both basketball and life. 

It was clear that I needed to be a Sooner.

Home is where the heart is

Because of everything going on in my life, we didn’t always have a stable place to live. 

Through all of the adversity, my relationship with my mom has grown, and today, she is an active role model in my life. 

But as a teenager, balancing the real world with school and sports was hard. 

I know that, unfortunately, I wasn’t the only kid that was having to go through some of the things that I went through, but it was still a unique situation.

But going through that struggle taught me to appreciate the little things coaches would do. 

Jennie and her staff told me they would come to see me no matter what, and they didn’t care what I had going on.

They were there for me from the jump. 

For those of you who don’t know what the recruiting process looks like, know that when I tell you that it’s special, it is special

Oklahoma was the only school that offered me that kind of love and support on and off the court. I’ll never forget that. 

Love and basketball

At first, I only started playing basketball to hang out with my friends. 

But it all started in the fourth grade when a group of my friends were playing basketball, and they begged me to come and play with them. 

I reluctantly agreed. 

When I got to the gym where they were playing, I was terrible. Talk about a humbling moment.

But I wasn’t playing then to be good; I was just there to hang out with my friends.

So I kept showing up. 

I think that’s kind of what makes me who I am — I always just keep showing up. 

It wasn’t until I had a coach named Zach O’Brien, who really poured into and believed in me, that I started to take hoops seriously. 

He was the first person to tell me that I could play college basketball if I wanted to, and that’s when it clicked for me. 

I knew that this was what I wanted to do. I was going to make it happen, no matter what got in my way.

Coach O’Brien made me realize that basketball was more than just a way for me to hang out with my friends… it was a way to get to something better. 

Sometimes, all it takes is for someone to believe you – and for me, that someone was Coach O’Brien. 

Jennie and her staff told me they would come to see me no matter what, and they didn’t care what I had going on. They were there for me from the jump.  For those of you who don’t know what the recruiting process looks like, know that when I tell you that it’s special, it is special.  Oklahoma was the only school that offered me that kind of love and support on and off the court. I’ll never forget that. 

A coach like no other

In the seventh grade, I started to get interest from a few different colleges. 

As I said earlier, I had a really good relationship with Jennie from the start. When I was that age, she was coaching at Drake in Des Moines, and she was one of the first coaches to reach out to me. 

She was committed to guiding me through the entire recruiting process. I just felt like she wanted what was best for me and my family. 

Back then, when things were unstable for me and my family, her interest and support meant the world. 

I was working so hard, and she validated that I was working toward something bigger than myself. 

I always knew that if I played in college, I wanted to play for a loyal and loving coach. 

If you know who Jennie Baranczyk is, you know that loyal and loving epitomize her. 

It was a no-brainer once she got to Oklahoma and offered me a scholarship. I knew what I wanted to do. 

I was going to be a Sooner. Finally.

A season to remember

When I made the 10-hour drive from Waterloo, Iowa, to Norman, Okla., last summer, I was just a kid trying to find her way in the world. 

I didn’t really know what to expect, and I was just excited to be here.

Now, don’t get me wrong.

When you come to Oklahoma, you know that you’ll have awesome fans backing you, top-notch facilities and everything that comes with being a student-athlete.

But I didn’t know what to expect on the floor.

How would I fit into the team? How would I play? How do I balance school and ball?

So now, looking back on my first full season at OU, I would say that my first year was a season of growth for me. 

I learned a lot about myself, and because of it, I became a better basketball player and, more importantly, a better person. 

It was special to get the opportunity to connect genuinely with our fans and the OU family. It was so important to come here and be part of a family, and that’s exactly what I’ve got. 

Our fans and the community of Norman are so special to us as student-athletes at Oklahoma. 

It’s a privilege to wear the Crimson and Cream and to represent the interlocking OU. For us to be able to give back is honestly just a blessing. 

Getting to soak everything in and build relationships throughout the year was incredibly rewarding. 

I love Oklahoma and Oklahoma Women’s Basketball so much.

We are a national brand. We take second to nobody. I want to do whatever it takes to help our program grow and improve. 

College sports have changed so much just in the last couple of years. You feel it as a recruit. You feel it as a student-athlete. It’s such an exciting time to be a Sooner.

Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) plays a huge role in what being a student-athlete means now. 

NIL has allowed me to connect with our fans, local businesses and create meaningful partnerships to benefit me off the court. Through NIL, I get to represent OU basketball on and off the floor. 

A promise

So why, when everything was falling apart, why did I keep playing basketball?

It would’ve been easy to quit. To give up. I had all the excuses in the world. 

I made a promise to my family.

When I was young and we were going through struggles, I told them that when I made it to the league, I’d take care of them.

They didn’t believe me. Like every kid, I was just a kid who said they would make it to the league and take care of their friends and family. 

But I was serious.

I’m still serious. 

I made a promise that I don’t intend to break. 

When you’re at a place like Oklahoma, there’s no excuses. I have everything I need to keep my promise.

Oklahoma has been shaping and molding me into the best version of myself since I was in the seventh grade. 

Years of pouring into me. Now, I get to give back.

It’s because I’m a Sooner that I have a winner’s mentality. 

It’s because I’m a Sooner that I know it takes everyone on our team to win. 

More importantly, it’s because I’m a Sooner that I know how to love. To love the game. To love to compete. To love Oklahoma. 

OU means everything to me. 

Because of that, I intend to make Jennie, the staff, Sooner Nation, Norman, Waterloo, my family and everyone in between proud of who I am and who I will become.