Stiles Closes in on Scoring Mark

Thursday, February 22nd 2001, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

All Jackie Stiles wanted to do at Southwest Missouri State was play a little basketball and help her team win a few games.

She has done that — and a whole lot more.

A small-town kid with a big-time game, Stiles is about to become the career scoring leader in NCAA Division I women's basketball. It could happen as early as Sunday, at Wichita State.

Stiles need 44 points to set the record, a figure that's not out of reach for someone who's had games of 56, 52 and 49 in her career and last Sunday at Northern Iowa scored 20 points in only six minutes.

If it doesn't happen at Wichita, there's still plenty of time. The 20th-ranked Lady Bears will be in front of their fans at the Hammons Student Center in Springfield, Mo., next week for their final regular-season games against Creighton and Drake.

So the question is not if but when. Maybe that's why the record is rarely, if ever, mentioned when the team gets together. The Lady Bears first need to worry about catching Drake, which has a one-game lead in the race for the Missouri Valley Conference championship.

``She doesn't talk about it,'' teammate Tara Mitchem said. ``The whole team, the coaching staff, we don't talk about it. But it's obvious to me and I'm sure it's obvious to her that if she keeps playing like she is, the record is going to come.''

As she approached the MVC scoring record earlier this season, Stiles learned what can happen when she gets caught up in numbers. She was a wreck.

``I tried to screen myself away from all of it, but I heard the numbers the last few games and started playing tight and not having fun and not enjoying myself,'' Stiles said.

``As soon as it was over, I just relaxed. I was a different person. If it happens, it does. If it doesn't, I just have to do my best every day.''

Stiles, averaging 31.2 points and shooting 58 percent, has scored 3,079 points in four years at Southwest Missouri State. The NCAA record belongs to Patricia Hoskins, who scored 3,122 at Mississippi Valley State from 1985-89.

Many points to be sure. But then Stiles' basketball career has been measured by the thousands for a long time.

During her final two years of high school in Claflin, Kan., a town of 670 in the middle of the Wheat Belt, Stiles stayed in the gym until she made — that's made, not attempted — 1,000 shots. The ritual sometimes took four hours and kept her shooting until well past midnight.

She did it year-round, almost every day of the week.

``There were a few days, like if we had a track meet, when I thought I just can't do it today. I just couldn't go to the gym,'' Stiles said. ``But the times I didn't do it, I felt I was cheating myself because I knew I would never get that day back.''

Most days, though, there wasn't much to distract Stiles from her routine, not in a town that's so small it doesn't even have a stoplight.

``There wasn't a lot to do,'' Stiles said. ``There were no malls or anything, so you just played sports to have a good time.''

Few played them as well as Stiles. She won 14 state championships in track, ran cross country and scored 3,603 points at Claflin High, where she was such an attraction that fans showed up two hours before the game to get a seat. No one who has played high school ball in Kansas, boy or girl, has scored more.

Even playing games with family and friends, Stiles hated to lose.

``You don't want to beat her in a board game,'' said her father, Pat Stiles. ``When she was young, she threw tantrums. Now she just gets mad.''

Stiles was the boys basketball coach at Claflin when Jackie was younger and she'd often tag along with him on Saturdays to the gym. When she was 8, Pat Stiles lied about her age so he could sneak her into a camp for 9- and 10-year-olds. Even then, she stood out.

``I was getting the idea that she was gifted,'' Pat Stiles said.

In her climb up the NCAA charts, Stiles already has passed greats such as Cheryl Miller and Chamique Holdsclaw and is only the sixth women's player to top 3,000 points.

Through it all, she has held fast to the small-town values that nurtured her.

``When I sit back and think about where I am now, I can't believe this is me,'' Stiles said. ``It all happened so fast, the whole journey. I remember in high school after I broke the state scoring record I was like, wow, the whole state. I never imagined being in this position.

``Being in college, I just wanted to come in and do my best and do what I could to help my team. I can't believe I'm where I am today.''

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