Women's basketball: All-time scoring leader Jackie Stiles rooting for Kelsey Plum to break the record
Jackie Stiles has a phone call to make and some advice to give.
She's been anticipating this moment for the past 16 years, ever since she set the NCAA Division I women's basketball scoring record, an unlikely achievement, she said, for a small-town Kansas girl.
"I still have to pinch myself that I'm the all-time leading scorer," Stiles said. "It's wild when people say that to me."
Over the past decade, she's watched a handful of this generation's greatest players make a run at her record. Connecticut's Maya Moore and Delaware Elena Delle Donne gave chase, but never really came close.
Four years ago, Brittney Griner, a 6-foot-8 dunking sensation at Baylor, looked as if she might claim the scoring title before finishing her career 110 points behind Stiles for second place.
"I know records are meant to be broken," Stiles said. "I know something like this draws a lot of attention — good attention — to the women's game. Anything we can do to help grow the sport I'm all for it.
"I want to give back to the game of basketball. It's given me everything. I tell people all the time, I've never had to get a real job because basketball has given me everything. It's truly blessed me so I want to help it grow as much as I can. I will definitely celebrate whoever does break it."
Stiles remained mostly silent during previous pursuits at her record, not wanting to be a distraction.
But there's something different — and strangely familiar — about this newest challenger, Washington's Kelsey Plum.
"I will be touching base with her," Stiles said. "I want to pass along maybe some words of encouragement after just being there and knowing what it's like.
"I know exactly what she's going through right now. I didn't live in the social-media age, so I can't imagine what that adds to it. But I would love to help her in any way handle this."
RELATED: Plum joins the 3,000-point club
Stiles plans to tell Plum a story about the "amazing ride" her senior year at Southwest Missouri State (now named Missouri State). Before the season, she pledged to carry the Bears to the NCAA Final Four and made it her mission. It consumed her.
The 3,393 points she scored between 1998-2001 were a byproduct of coach Cheryl Burnett's beautifully designed offense that allowed a Cinderella team like Southwest Missouri State to topple powerhouse programs.
Stiles wants to tell Plum everything about that year, including the bodyguard the school hired for her near the end of the season to manage crowd control.
The 38-year-old plans to tell Plum, 22, to make wise decisions about conditioning and diet. No one told her that before her body began breaking down to the point where she needed 13 surgeries in a four-year span.
And Stiles will tell Plum to remain committed to her routine no matter how many people tug at her asking for interviews, autographs and award-show appearances. Just say no. Block it all out. Do what you've always done that's taken you here.
Mostly, Stiles wants to tell Plum to have fun and "enjoy the ride," because when it's over, it's over.
"I had fun playing professional basketball and that's a dream come true, but I would trade every contract to go back and play another four years of college basketball," Stiles said. "I just want her to enjoy every second of this journey that she has left.
"I'm guessing I'll touch base with her in the next couple of weeks as she gets closer and closer."
Plum is seventh on the NCAA women's basketball career scoring list with 3,041 points — just 352 behind Stiles.
If she maintains her Division I-leading 31.2 scoring average, she'll surpass Stiles in UW's Pac-12 tournament opener.
Stiles' phone call is likely to begin with a playful jab in reference to their only conversation, five years ago.
"This is a wild story and I haven't told it to anyone before, but [Plum] was my very first recruiting call," said Stiles, an assistant at Missouri State.
Stiles made her foray into coaching in 2012 with Loyola Marymount, where she was when she recruited Plum.
"I opened it with I don't know if you know who I am ... but I want to help you break my record to become the all-time leading scorer," Stiles said. "Of course, I didn't get to help her. But I was like, 'Wow.' She reminded me of myself when I saw her at that point, just how she played.
"Very special, and I knew that when I first laid eyes on her. It was great to actually get to talk to her on the phone. I wish I could have coached her. That would have been even better. Definitely, I've followed her from afar ever since then."
The similarities between them are striking.
Stiles is 5-foot-8 and 135 pounds; Plum is 5-foot-8 and 145. They're undersized guards who didn't win the genetics Powerball.
In a sport where size and speed are defining qualities, Stiles and Plum share an uncanny shooting ability and dogged determination to excel.
Burnett once used the term "obsessive gym rat" to describe Stiles, and UW coach Mike Neighbors said Plum is "the most focused person I've ever been around."
They learned the game early in life from their fathers.
Stiles' dad coached high-school basketball, and she started tagging along to practice when she was 3. Most of Plum's family played volleyball, but her father urged her into basketball when she was 5 and she fell in love with the sport watching him play pickup games.
"My mom says she remembers watching Jackie Stiles play and I kind of remember, but I really don't," Plum said.
Plum abhors the attention she receives during her record chase, but "one of the cool things is we remember and get to look back on people like Jackie and how amazing she was."
Stiles grew up in tiny Claflin, Kansas, (population: 641), where her father drove her four hours each day during the summers to play on AAU teams. She eschewed a chance to play at bigger schools because of a belief in Burnett's coaching style.
"I liked the idea of staying close to home," said Stiles, whose graduating class at Clafin High was 23 people.
At Southwest Missouri State, she averaged 20.6 points as a freshman, 25.7 as a sophomore and 27.8 as a junior. Heading into her senior season, she needed another sensational season to make history.
The record-holder at the time was Patricia Hoskins, a four-time All-American and All-SWAC center at Mississippi Valley State who scored 3,122 points between 1986-89.
Before Hoskins, former Drake great Lorri Bauman, who became the first NCAA women's basketball player to score 3,000 points, held the scoring title. She needed just 120 games to amass 3,115 points during her four-year career (1980-84).
"My only focus was to win and do whatever it took to help the team win," Stiles said. "I didn't think about that at all. As it got closer, there was no way to escape it."
Stiles made a pact with her roommate, Carly Deer. They avoided watching television, reading newspapers and listening to the radio during the 2000-01 season.
Still, life in Springfield, Missouri, had become a fishbowl for the basketball star.
"I remember the week before, we tried to go somewhere to eat at this fast-food place and just got mobbed," Stiles said. "As it got closer it was harder to escape, but I did my best to try not to focus on it."
The bodyguard helped, but teammates teased Stiles relentlessly about the added security. She's not exactly sure how or why, but with five games remaining in the regular season a big, burly guy hired by the school accompanied her on the court during warmups to keep fans away.
That season, Southwest Missouri State routinely sold out the Hammons Student Center (capacity 8,846), and it was nearly impossible to get a ticket as Stiles inched toward the record.
On March 1, 2001, Stiles needed 20 points to set the mark. She didn't know Hoskins was in the stands or that the school was ready to distribute 10,000 commemorative pictures after the game.
"I was trying not to focus on the record, but I knew exactly how many points I had because the crowd was counting and doing a countdown every time I would score," she said.
At halftime, Stiles had 13 points and the record fell early in the second half when she drained a three-pointer from the corner in transition.
Oddly, Stiles doesn't rank the record-setter among her top three games.
Her favorites include (in order): An 87-86 victory over Baylor as a sophomore when she converted a game-winning four-point play with time expired; a 41-point performance as senior in an 81-71 victory against No. 1-seed Duke in the 2001 Sweet 16; and an 88-75 victory over Evansville when she scored a career-high 56 as a junior.
The victory over Duke followed a pair of triumphs in New Jersey to begin the tournament and preceded a 104-87 victory against Washington in Spokane in the Elite Eight, when Stiles scored 32 points.
Stiles delivered on her promise and led No. 15 Southwest Missouri State to the Final Four, which was played in nearby St. Louis. The Bears' fairy-tale season came to an end with an 81-64 defeat in the semifinals against No. 9 Purdue in which she was held to 22 points.
"We just kind of hit the wall," said Stiles, who regrets flying to an awards ceremony two days before the Final Four. "We ran out of gas. We were underseeded and the only team in the Final Four not to host a game. Experience helps and hindsight is 20-20."
Selected fourth overall by the Portland Fire in the 2001 WNBA draft, Stiles captured the Rookie of the Year award ahead of the Storm's Lauren Jackson.
However, the accumulation of playing six consecutive years, she said, began taking its toll. She spent most of the 2002 season on the injured-reserve list battling an assortment of ailments.
When the Fire folded after 2002, Stiles was picked up by the Los Angeles Sparks but never played again in the WNBA. Between 2002-06, she underwent 13 surgeries.
"They said my arm was going to rot off with all the shots that I shoot," said Stiles, who retired in 2006 after a brief stint playing in Australia. "It was my right shoulder, my right wrist and my right ankle and my Achilles.
"If I had the knowledge of how to take care of my body I would still be playing. ... I don't have any regrets, but I wish I knew some of the stuff now in how to take care of my body because I think I'd still be playing."
Six years after retiring from basketball, Stiles started a coaching career in 2012 that put her on a path to Plum. Her initial instincts about the Washington star proved true.
"She's so special — that's why it would be an honor to have somebody like her break my record," Stiles said. "She is just a great person as well — a great role model for other young girls that watch her and want to be like her. She's just making our game better.
"Words can't describe what a phenomenal athlete, person and player she is. And she has done it through hard work. She has worked to be able to do what she's done."
This article is written by Percy Allen from Seattle Times and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network.