A Leader who Cultivates Leaders: Exclusive Interview with Darlean Calip and Stailee Heard

Coach Darlean Calip can rightfully be seen as one who has changed and essentially cemented herself as a legendary face when it comes to Oklahoma Girls’ High School Basketball. The 2019 Coaches Hall of Fame inductee, Calip, knows how to win. Looking at her five state titles and well over 300 wins as a head coach, you could say she’s one of the faces of girls’ basketball in the state of Oklahoma.

This season, Calip’s Lady Chieftains once again achieved basketball immortality by winning the 2022-2023 5A state championship. During this season, they amassed a record of 25-2, led by Oklahoma State commit and senior standout Stailee Heard. Following their win, I had the opportunity and absolute pleasure to sit down with both of them and talk about the game, the season, and a bit of the future.

During the championship game against Holland Hall, Heard posted a monstrous 41 points; none more significant than her game-winning floater (pictured) that came with less than 4 seconds left.

“So that play, I just knew we had to execute what [Calip] drew up,” Heard said. “It was supposed to go to our freshman Ricki McQuarters but when I ended up being open and knew I had to go score. I knew we were in the bonus, and if I attacked, I could get to the line or have an open layup.” 

Calip: “Yeah, like Stailee said, when she curled, she was open so absolutely that’s who we want to give the basketball. That’s who we go to and we know she’ll make a play.”

A.J.: “So what was the game plan going into this matchup? Was there anything specific you wanted the girls to clamp down on?”

Calip: “We wanted to limit their three-point opportunities and force them into difficult situations. They shoot the ball very well and in the first half, we didn’t execute things properly. Defensively we made adjustments coming out of halftime and put Stailee on Elise. We knew that could be a difficult matchup for her to get the ball around Stailee’s length and athleticism. The kids came out and made the right adjustments and that helped us win this game.”

The Elise that Coach Calip mentioned was none other than Holland Hall’s Elise Hill. Hill, a senior and University of Tulsa commit, looked to match Heard’s intensity with 36 points of her own, including six three-pointers. “I’ve known her for a long time. We’ve played against each other since second or third grade. I have a lot of respect for her. She’s a really good athlete.” Stailee said of her lifelong opponent, whom she is sure to see on the college level soon enough.

But just as much as this was a match against a familiar foe, it saw the senior guard finishing her high school career with a friendlier, familiar face.

A.J.: “Stailee, let me ask you, this was your last game to play with your sister. What did this moment and win mean for you, and what was your mindset?”

Stailee: “This game meant everything. We’ve been playing together since we were in second and third grade. Just before the game, it hit me that this is the last game we’ll play together, on the same team at that. We wanted to put everything into this game.”

Stailee’s sister Tyla, a junior, poured in 20 points of her own. Both were members of the 2021 state championship team.

A.J.: “Coach, what has it meant to you watching Stailee grow as a player and young woman? Especially now as she is transitioning to the next level of play?”

Calip: “It’s been a pleasure. I’ve known Stailee and her sister since they were young, coming to camps. This year, Stailee just had so much growth and played at a level above our competition. She was such a tremendous leader for our team. They followed whatever she did. And I told her, “They’ll follow whatever you do. I know you’re frustrated, but your teammates are going to react how they see you react, so just go out there and play.” It was nice to see her do that and have the season that she had and see her be herself.

The confidence that Coach Calip had in Stailee all season was apparent in their biggest moments, and it helped Heard’s confidence and level of play. “Last year, I felt like I had to do everything, and I just had to relax. We have a young team, and there were a lot of nerves starting the game, so it made things chaotic because we hadn’t had a tough and close game like that. I knew I had to relax and do what had to be done, and my teammates also stepped up.”

The one thing you can say about Darlean Calip is she’s a leader’s leader. She can bring the best out of everyone around her. Kaley Clayton, a member of Sapulpa’s staff, is one of many who will tell you that. “She is a legend, and I know all of us who coach under her would tell you the same thing. Legend, and we are lucky to be led by her.

A watchful, detailed basketball mind, Coach Calip steered the ship in a manner that helped the Lady Chieftains write their own story. “We went to some big tournaments this year, and the moment was never too big for this team. I still haven’t said much to Stailee or Tyla about that being their last game together. I just wanted them to play, and that’s how I approached the whole season. Going to games and watching them warm up, you get a feel of your team and how they’re going to approach the game.” Leadership that can’t be taught but is always teaching and growing whoever is available.

When I watched their first game of the state tournament against Glenpool, I could tell there was a very special feeling about this state tournament run for the ladies. Something both Heard and Calip thoughtfully reminisced over. “This one felt different,” Heard said in a pensive manner. “Two years ago, we were in control the entire game. We were also taller, but I feel like we were more athletic, and this year was just more fun.”

I agree with Stailee,” Calip reinforced. “We were tied at the end of the first quarter, but after that, we were down the whole game…it was such a well-played game on both sides. Crystal [Lawson], the head coach from Holland Hall used to be my assistant. All of that plus the emotions of this game and Stailee making that shot just made it more special.”

She’s actually impacted me a lot. I’m just thankful for everything she’s taught me over the years. I honestly haven’t had a better coach that cares and wants the best for us not just in basketball, but in real life situations. She’s taught us that there’s more than basketball” Heard admiringly said about her coach.

A leader who cultivates leaders. One thing I could easily tell about this coach/player duo is not only the influence they’ve had on each other but also the influence they have on everyone who encounters them. If you’re an Oklahoma State fan, you have a special player that will suit up for the women’s team in the fall if you cheer for an opposing school…good luck. 

About the author

A Los Angeles native, AJ grew up watching sports from the age of two and his love for basketball and football never died. He started playing sports at age seven and went on through collegiate and minor league levels (local and overseas) as well. After nearly twenty years of athletics, AJ decided to hang it up and retired from minor league football in June of 2018. Since then, he has continued his love of sports by writing for the Suave Report as a sports and culture contributor as well as coaching and refereeing sports in the OKC metro area. He currently lives with his wife, Beth and daughter, Gianna in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, working as a coach and gym owner.

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