'You want them to love what they do': How Jennie Baranczyk is creating new culture of OU women's hoops

It's all smiles when the Oklahoma women's basketball team steps onto the court.

In the midst of the shooting drills, the layup lines and the instructions from OU's coaching staff, it's not uncommon for a player to vibe out a bit as Drake plays over Lloyd Noble Center's speakers.

Another player might share a laugh with a teammate before leading a three-man weave to perfection and capping it off with a made bucket down low.

As long as they're putting in the work, that's all fine with head coach Jennie Baranczyk.

“You want them to love what they do,” said Baranczyk, who is entering her first season at the helm of the Sooners. “We’re still going to be disciplined, diving on the floor and really competitive, but we can do that while we’re having fun."

This is the culture Baranczyk has already established during her short time in Norman.

The former Drake head coach has some rather large shoes to fill following the retirement of Sherri Coale, who coached the Sooners for 25 seasons, but Baranczyk is enjoying the process.

“It’s been so interesting just starting over,” Baranczyk said. “When you’re implementing a whole new system, it’s a little bit different because everyone is a freshman. … I think everyone has had a great attitude and is working really hard.”

Some newly dubbed freshmen are more experienced than others, though.

Madi Williams is a 6-foot senior who averaged a team-high 20.0 points and 5.1 rebounds per game last season en route to a first-team All-Big 12 selection. The mobile forward uses her strength to brush off contact on her way to the rim, and she can also knock down some mid-range jumpers.

Then there’s the sharpshooting duo of Gabby Gregory and Taylor Robertson.

Gregory is a 6-foot junior who averaged 16.6 points per game last season while shooting 35.3% from deep, and Robertson proved to be even deadlier from distance. The 5-7 senior averaged 16.1 points per contest and shot 43% from behind the arc, which ranked 18th in the nation.

“The experience they have is really good,” Baranczyk said. “Their confidence as upperclassmen and leaders has really started to come out… That’s been very helpful.”

The Sooners are also bringing back two players who didn’t suit up for the 2020-2021 campaign.

Nydia Lampkin returns to the frontcourt after opting out of last season. The 6-3 redshirt sophomore averaged 3.3 points and 3.0 rebounds in 13.8 minutes per game two seasons ago and should have a larger role this time around on a team that doesn’t have a whole lot of size.

Then there’s Ana Llanusa, the X-Factor of the group.

The 6-foot redshirt senior entered last year’s campaign as a preseason All-Big 12 honoree, but she never suited up due to a nagging back injury that ultimately required surgery.

Llanusa impacts the game on both ends of the floor thanks to her explosiveness, and the Choctaw native is gradually returning to form this offseason.

“(Llanusa) is really moving well,” Baranczyk said. “Even from when we started with a couple of weeks of workouts in April to now, you can just see the difference… We all know what she can do, so those things are going to come as she continues to develop her confidence.”

New OU women's basketball coach Jennie Baranczyk went 192-96 in nine seasons at Drake, leading the Bulldogs to six consecutive 20-win seasons and three NCAA Tournament berths.

OU is also bringing in a freshman class that includes 6-1 guard Kaley Perkins, 6-3 forward Emma Svodoba, 5-7 guard Kelbie Washington and 6-foot forward Bre’yon White.

Another newcomer is Kennady Tucker, a 5-10 junior who transferred from North Carolina on June 1. The former Tar Heel only appeared in seven games last season, averaging 1.4 points in 9.1 minutes per contest, but she’s a former four-star recruit in ESPN’s Class of 2019.

Tucker is a combo guard who can handle defensive pressure well, and her ability to push the tempo makes her an ideal fit for a Sooners squad that wants to run this season.

“We’ll be an uptempo team,” Baranczyk said. “We want to be able to push the ball in the fastbreak… We’re going to be a team that works really hard and has a smile on our face while we’re doing it.”

It's those smiles that are a true reflection of the team's chemistry, and it's this tight-knit atmosphere that Baranczyk hopes will resonate with the Sooners' fanbase.

"We want to be the best for this community that we can be," Baranczyk said. "We want people to come in the winter and watch Oklahoma women's basketball.... They're going to get to know these women, and that's the main priority."