Campus Corner

Scoring record holder Stiles hears Griner’s footsteps

Updated: 2013-03-07T06:11:38Z

By BLAIR KERKHOFF

The Kansas City Star

Jackie Stiles’ phone vibrates every time Baylor plays a women’s basketball game.

Her friends send text messages about Brittney Griner, informing Stiles how many points the Baylor star just scored and where things stand on the NCAA Division I career scoring list. Stiles tops the chart, with Griner in pursuit.

“I’ve been well aware,” said Stiles, who’s wrapping up her first year as an assistant coach at Loyola Marymount. “I get texts all the time. People will take pictures of the TV. … They’ll see the list and they’ll try to figure out how many she has to score to break it.”

The answer is 270 to tie and one more for Griner to stand alone. She shaved 50 points off the chase in regular-season finale Monday against Kansas State and now has 3,123 career points. Stiles finished her career at Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State) in 2001 with 3,393 points.

The math is easy. A maximum of nine games remain for top-ranked Baylor — three in the Big 12 Tournament, which begins Saturday for the No. 1 seeded Bears — and six in the NCAA Tournament.

If Baylor and Griner play in all of them, she’ll need to average 30 points per game. Griner takes a 23.3-point scoring average into the postseason.

But from what she’s seen, Stiles doesn’t doubt the potential of a fast finish from the 6-foot-8 Griner, given her dominance around the basket. And Stiles wouldn’t be crushed to be displaced at the top of the list either.

“Honestly, records are meant to be broken,” Stiles said. “I would absolutely be the first to congratulate her if she does break it. Everything I’ve seen with her, her interviews, she’s a great person off the floor as well as a great player. I definitely would want to be there to support her if she does break it.”

You wondered if Stiles was saying this through gritted teeth, or with fists clenched. Especially if you remember her fierce competitiveness as a 5-foot-8 point guard for the Bears, who she led on a magical Final Four run as a senior.

Stiles’ approach to the game was passion with an edge. As a junior, she scored 56 in a game. Stiles’ senior year became one of the greatest in the sport’s history when she became the only woman to surpass 1,000 points in a season and captured several major individual honors. Not to mention the imagination of basketball-bouncing girls, especially in Missouri and her home state of Kansas who had a role model in a pony tail.

But Stiles became something of a victim of her dedication. The kid who grew up in tiny Claflin, Kan., wasn’t satisfied unless she made 1,000 shots a day. But her body couldn’t keep up.

Injuries too countless to list ended her WNBA career 21 games into her second season, after she won rookie of the year. But Stiles remained maniacal about fitness and competing. She tried cycling, then marathon running. Whatever she tried, her body ultimately rebelled.

“When it came to competition, I didn’t have it out my system for a long time,” Stiles said. “I loved to compete. Love it. I had to make sure there was no form of competition I could do.”

Physical competition, to be more precise. Coaching has provided a different type of competitive nourishment. Stiles can go full throttle, just as she did as an athlete, without punishing her body. First-year Loyola coach Charity Elliott, who played for Southwest Missouri’s 1992 Final Four team, reached out to Stiles, who had been running camps and clinics, engaged in motivational speaking and started a personal training center: J. Stiles Total Training.

Stiles loved the idea.

“I’m passionate about individual development,” Stiles said. “When I worked with kids before, I’d see them in games occasionally. Now, I get to see them on a daily basis and see them grow. You’re almost like a proud parent.”

Loyola won three of its final four regular-season games and will be the fifth seed in the West Coast Conference Tournament, which begins Thursday.

The off-season brings recruiting. The kids Loyola targets know Stiles only through references, search engines, and when her name pops up on Brittney Griner highlights. Which is fine by Stiles. Anything for an edge.

“At first, I didn’t know how I’d feel about recruiting,” Stiles said.

Ah, but there’s an element to the activity that stokes the fire.

“You have to have a drive,” Stiles said. “It’s about competing.”

To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to bkerkhoff@kcstar.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/BlairKerkhoff.

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