By LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON
Living on Tulsa Time: Despite never visiting Oklahoma prior to joining the Tulsa Shock, rookie point guard Skylar Diggins is quickly getting used to life in Green Country.
“Everyone’s so nice here,” she said. “I had never been to Oklahoma before, so I guess I didn’t know to expect that. Everyone’s been really welcoming, so there hasn’t been that much of a culture shock.”
The third overall selection in this year’s draft, Diggins is originally from South Bend, Ind., which, as of the last census, has about 310,000 residents in its metropolitan area, including one-third living in the city proper. By comparison, Tulsa has almost 400,000 people living within its city limits and an estimated 960,000 people in its metropolitan area.
“It’s a little different, but not that much,” she said. “I came from a really small city. This isn’t a huge city, but it is big enough to where it is a good adjustment for me. It’s not overwhelming and it’s been great for me.”
Paris staying positive
At least one veteran has noticed some subtle changes within the Tulsa Shock, including a new attitude.
Courtney Paris joined the team last season after stints with the Atlanta Dream, Los Angeles Sparks and now-defunct Sacramento Monarchs. One of seven players on the current roster with postseason experience, she believes this is the year Tulsa makes the playoffs.
“Mentally, the culture is changing,” the former University of Oklahoma center said. “We want to win. It’s not like ‘Oh, we’re Tulsa. We know we’re going to struggle.’ Now, it’s ‘No, we’re Tulsa. We’ve got a great team – let’s make something happen this season.’
“That (making the playoffs) is the expectation and that’s the cool part. I don’t know if that’s always been the hope, but now it’s ‘Let’s make the playoffs. Let’s make that happen.’”
Losing a dozen games by 10 points or less, the Shock went 9-25 last year, but earned seven of those wins in the season’s last 20 games, including a three-game winning streak. Paris credits that late-season surge as a catalyst for the optimism around this season going into the preseason.
“The momentum at the end of last season helped with picking up a few wins. That momentum carried over into this training camp. Everyone’s attitude is different. No one is settling for being the last place team in the league or anything like that.”
Osage Casino seeing dividends
Despite the season opener still being a week away, the Shock’s presenting sponsor is already seeing a return on its investment.
“We’re delighted to be a part of supporting them and they’re helping us significantly.” Osage Casinos CEO Neil Cornelius said. “We’ve been on TNT and ESPN already and we’ll be on opening night on ESPN, so we’re getting tremendous recognition already.”
Earlier this year, the Shock became the seventh WNBA team to enter into a marquee partnership agreement, signing a multi-year contract with Osage Casinos. As per the terms of the agreement, Osage Casinos’ logo appear on the players’ jerseys, along with all of the team’s branding and printed materials. Other companies with similar agreements include Farmers Insurance, bing.com and LifeLock, who are partnered with the Los Angeles Sparks, Seattle Storm and Phoenix Mercury respectively.
“Anywhere you see the Shock, you’re going to see Osage,” Cornelius said.
Osage Casino is the only tribally-owned entity to be a presenting sponsor of a professional sports team. The WNBA’s Connecticut Sun, based in Uncasville, Conn., is owned by the Mohegan Tribe and plays at the tribe’s Mohegan Sun casino. However, logos for the tribe and its casino do not appear on the team’s jerseys.