Support, passion still drive Stiles
Southwest Missouri State star still holds several DI records
Once referred to as the “Michael Jordan of women’s basketball,” Jackie Stiles, like Jordan, still loves competition and pushing the limits.
Eleven years removed from the end of her collegiate career at Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State), Stiles remains the all-time NCAA record holder for most points in a season (1,062) and career (3,393) for a Division I women’s basketball player. She is the only player to ever top 1,000 points in a single season.
During her career, the 5-foot-8 Stiles, though unassuming off the court, was a handful on the hardwood. Stiles was 40 minutes of terror for opposing defenses, scoring on jump shots and drives against defenses designed specifically to stop her. Her ability to move without the basketball and get open was legendary. She led the nation in scoring in both the 1999-2000 and 2000-01 seasons, topping the 50-point mark twice. Her 56-point game against Evansville on March 10, 2000, is the fourth highest scoring effort in NCAA history.
A four-sport athlete (basketball, cross country, track and tennis) at Claflin High School in Kansas, Stiles grew up in a household in which her dad, Pat, coached boys’ basketball and a variety of other sports at Claflin, while her mother, Pam, worked three jobs at times to ensure that her daughter was able to attend the many basketball camps it required to get better. In addition to her basketball prowess, Stiles earned 14 gold medals at the Kansas State High School Track and Field Championships.
“I always knew what I wanted to do,” Stiles said. “I remember telling my second grade teacher that I wanted to be a professional basketball player.”
To get there, the ultra-competitive Stiles did it the old-fashioned way; she rolled up her sleeves and went to work.
“Growing up I would make sure that I made 1,000 shots a day,” Stiles said. “I was not a selfish player, but if I felt it was my role to score, that’s what I looked to do. Basketball is a team game and I relied on my teammates to make me a better player.”
Recruited my numerous schools, including Connecticut and Kansas State, Stiles had 18 home visits from interested schools during a span of 19 days. With limited restaurant options in Claflin, her mom cooked for every coach that knocked at her door. The same -- and only -- white rental car in the area, was a constant in her driveway.
“It was a hard decision, but I eventually decided on Missouri State because they saw me first,” Stiles said. “They had a top-20 program and I had gone to camp there for five straight seasons and really liked their coaching staff. I had originally signed a letter of intent to go to UConn, but slept on it and never sent it in. I even called the Psychic Hotline to see if they could help in my college decision.”
Stiles arrived in Springfield, Mo., to much hoopla. Her freshman year at Missouri State was a big adjustment -- the speed and athleticism of the players was eye-opening, academics challenging. Time management was the order of the day.
After three successful seasons that saw the Lady Bears challenge for conference championships and achieve top-25 national rankings, Stiles and four fellow seniors on the team in 2000-01 set their goal on achieving great things during their final collegiate season.
After winning the Missouri Valley Conference Championship for the first time, Stiles and the Lady Bears were forced to go to New Jersey for first- and second-round action in the 2001 NCAA Championship. Following an 89-71 win against Toledo in the first round, Missouri State rallied to beat Rutgers 60-53 on its home court.
“It was incredible confidence-builder when we beat Rutgers,” Stiles said. “We felt we were peaking at the right time and were a confident team.”
The improbable journey then picked up momentum as the Lady Bears went to Spokane for regional play. With Stiles pouring in 41 points, Missouri State upset top-seeded Duke 81-71 in the Sweet 16.
“We went into the Duke game knowing that we needed to be aggressive and that we were going to do whatever it would take to win,” Stiles said. “Duke had a great team and was very athletic, but we prevailed.”
Stiles added 32 in a 104-87 win against Washington as the Lady Bears advanced to the Women’s Final Four in St. Louis. One of Stiles’ favorite memories remains the teams’ arrival at the Springfield Airport following the regional championship victory.
“We touched down at 7 p.m. and we couldn’t believe the amount of people who showed up to greet us,” Stiles said. “It was wall-to-wall people and it took us three hours to get to our bags. Our fans were great. They traveled with us to New Jersey and then drove across country to Spokane. To see them at the airport wasn’t a surprise, but it still weird to see how everyone reacted to me and the team.”
Missouri State arrived in St. Louis to great fan fare. With tremendous electricity at the Savvis Center, the open practice session prior to the national semifinal games set an attendance record. Unfortunately for Stiles and the Lady Bears, the game with Purdue did not live up to its advance billing, as the Boilermakers ended the Lady Bears’ national championship dreams with an 81-64 win.
“Looking back we were completely exhausted by the time we got to St. Louis,” said Stiles who went to Minneapolis, site of the Men’s Final Four, to be awarded the Wade Trophy as the top women’s player, the same week as the Women’s Final Four. “We could have used more time to prepare. The loss still hurts to this day. I have never watched a tape of that game.”
After being awarded the Broderick Cup which honors the Collegiate Woman Athlete of the Year, she competed with USA Basketball as a member of the Jones Cup Team that won the gold medal in Tapei.
“I could have never had the career I had without the support of those around me,” Stiles said. “I share all my records and awards with my parents, coaches and teammates that made me the player I became.”
Fulfilling her childhood dream, Stiles then set course on a professional career. After one successful year with the WNBA’s Portland Fire in which she was named the league’s rookie of the year and played in the WNBA All-Star Game, Stiles’ body betrayed her. She missed 11 games in 2002. The Fire folded that year, and Stiles was claimed by the Los Angeles Sparks, but she never played another game. Over the next three years, she had 13 surgeries – five on her right ankle, three on her right shoulder, three on her right wrist and two on her right Achilles’ tendon.
“To be paid to play a game you love was great,” Stiles said. “But with that being said, I would have traded every pro contract I ever signed for four more years of college. There is nothing like college basketball.”
Stiles attempted numerous comebacks, including her final one with the Canberra Capitals of the Women’s National Basketball League in Australia. But again, injury forced her to the sidelines.
“It was sad that every time that I felt I was just starting to click, my body would fail me,” Stiles said. “I have no regrets about my professional career. With the right physical therapist I might have lasted longer.”
Even though she recently went out and made 50 jump shots in a row from 15 feet, Stiles has no illusions about another comeback.
“To me it’s still like riding a bike, you never forget,” Stiles said. “I’m too competitive, so I don’t play much anymore.”
To fill the void, Stiles first took up competitive cycling and as of late has competed for spot at the Olympic Trials in the half-marathon. In her spare time she enjoys yoga.
Stiles recently returned from Wichita, Kan., to live in the city of her collegiate triumphs, residing near the same Missouri State campus that she helped turn into the center of attention in the women’s basketball universe in 2001. She works as a personal trainer, basketball instructor, motivational speaker and makes numerous personal appearances. Collegiate coaching would be a possibility if the right opportunity presents itself.
“I need to give my body a break and then determine what I want to do next,” Stiles said. “I miss competing and would consider coaching at some point in the future. It’s still fun to follow the game and to watch it grow.”