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Published: Tuesday, 1/19/2010

A name for herself: Carlee Roethlisberger steps out of big brother's shadow


Carlee Roethlisberger admits it. Absorbing repeated inquiries about her brother over the years has gotten to be tiresome.

“It depends on the question,” she said.

Lately, though, the discussion of Carlee's athletic achievements has increased in popularity.

After two mostly nondescript and frustrating seasons, the former Findlay High School star has worked her way into a starting role for the 13th-ranked University of Oklahoma women's basketball team. It is true that Roethlisberger's ascension is largely the result of a season-ending injury to one of the Sooners' top players. But it's also because of the patience Roethlisberger had early in her college career, as the appreciable success she enjoyed at Findlay did not immediately equate to significant playing time in the Big 12.

“I think my biggest thing was confidence, having the confidence to come in and play and know I can do it,” Roethlisberger said in a recent phone interview with The Blade.

Through 16 games, Roethlisberger is logging nearly 28 minutes a night and averaging 8.8 points and 5.1 rebounds. All of those figures are a serious spike from her sophomore season when the 6-foot-1 forward played 13 minutes per game — an increase of just two from her freshman season — registering 3.9 ppg.

“Division I athletics is not easy. It's mind games at times,” Sooners guard and Roethlisberger's roommate, Danielle Robinson, said. “She's overcome all of that and really benefited throughout these years.”

The Sooners, who began the year ranked No. 13 in the Associated Press poll, improved to 12-4 overall and 2-1 in the Big 12 on Sunday with a 74-65 win over No. 8 Texas A&M. A road game at Missouri (10-6, 0-3) awaits OU tomorrow.

Following an offseason that she dedicated to improving her drives to the basket, Roethlisberger was used for about 17 minutes over OU's first four games. Then, in the fifth game, Roethlisberger's role began to expand when sophomore Whitney Hand suffered a torn ACL during a tournament in the Virgin Islands. Roethlisberger has started in all 11 games of Hand's absence.

“She just embraced it,” Robinson said. “I think that's her outlook on life. She just embraces everything that comes her way.”

Hand, last year's Big 12 freshman of the year, is not expected to return this season. The Sooners have seemingly dealt with the loss admirably. Four players are averaging double digits in points, led by Robinson's 16.4 per game. OU has yet to suffer a head-scratching defeat. The four teams it has lost to — Georgia, Notre Dame, Tennessee, and Baylor — all are ranked in the top 10.

“I think we've taken on the roles very well,” Roethlisberger said. “I think we're playing well. Of course it's going to affect us, but we have to overcome that.”

In the wake of the injury to Hand, Roethlisberger behaved like someone might expect a player who had been waiting two years for an extensive chance. In her first start she totaled 11 points, six rebounds, and three assists in a loss to Notre Dame. In her second start, on Dec. 3, she torched University of Texas at Arlington for a career-high 29 points, knocking down five 3-pointers, and grabbing seven boards in 35 minutes.

“She just played with a lot of offensive confidence,” OU coach Sherri Coale said after the game. “It is not a surprise to us that she hit the 3, but it was the offensive rebounds and the mid-range jumpers that we like to see.”

Roethlisberger is trying to keep that performance in perspective, aware that the Mavericks (6-10 overall) are not a premier program. She insists she must continue to improve on the detailed areas of her game, such as boxing out under the basket and contributing with more “effort plays” — all while maintaining her 34 percent rate on shots beyond the arc.

“It's games like that you have to have against Tennessee or Connecticut, or games in the Big 12,” she said. “It was an awesome game, it was a great feeling, but it has to be consistent.”

Roethlisberger doesn't return to Findlay often, mainly because her parents Ken and Brenda now live in Pittsburgh, where big brother Ben has established a formidable career as quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Although the label of “Ben's little sister” has grown tedious to a degree, Carlee says she loves talking about her brother. But undoubtedly she'd rather talk with Ben, who served as a sounding board for his sister during Carlee's first two seasons in Norman, Okla.

“He's not the type of guy that's going to let you complain,” Carlee said. “I figured if I wasn't getting playing time, it's on me. It's not the coaches. He was always there just providing the big brother tough love kind of thing.”

Contact Ryan Autullo at:rautullo@theblade.comor 419-724-6160.

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