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All eyes on Stiles
By Ed Guzman of The Oregonian staff, 5/3/01

TUALATIN -- A sampling of Jackie Stiles' life lately:

"Hey Jackie, you got a minute?"

"What do you do for fun besides basketball?"

"Tell us about your rituals and superstitions."

"Hey Jackie, you got a minute?"

Stiles seemingly had more than a minute for everybody Wednesday at the Portland Fire's media day, a prelude to the start of training camp. She patiently answered questions, told the same stories over and over, and she smiled for the ever-present cameras.

"It's really been a whirlwind," Stiles said.

To say the least. But when you're a basketball hero from a town of 600 who took 1,000 jump shots a day in high school, are the career scoring leader in Division I women's basketball, led Southwest Missouri State to an unlikely Final Four run and were taken with Portland's top draft choice, the No. 4 selection in the WNBA draft, you're due a little attention.

"She still has small-town values and comes from a great family," said Portland coach Linda Hargrove, who has watched Stiles play since Stiles was 12. "She's better as a player, obviously, but as a person she's still very, at times, insecure and not really comfortable with all the media attention that she gets and not really sure of why she's getting it."

Besides, the attention and requests had been encroaching on the time Stiles puts into basketball. And for a player who became almost as well-known for her work ethic as her prolific scoring, it was becoming a time crunch.

"I was ending up getting like three to five hours of sleep because I was doing my workouts at one or two in the morning," Stiles said. "That's the only way I can get everything in."

These late-night 45-minute workouts -- in which she persuaded her roommate to rebound for her -- were surely done with the blessing of Cheryl Burnett, her college coach, right?

"She doesn't like the 1 a.m. workouts, and she actually doesn't know about the 1 a.m. workouts," Stiles said with a nervous laugh. "I just would say I got my workout in."

With her college career behind her, Stiles finally can focus on basketball -- and fitting in with her new teammates.

The Fire convened at the Blazers practice facility Wednesday afternoon for its first official practice, which ended with Stiles putting on an impressive shooting display. Jump shot after jump shot went up from different spots on the court. Many of them were good.

"This is where she relaxes and this is how she relaxes," said Hargrove, keeping a close eye on Stiles' shooting. "For her to be able to get in the gym and shoot the ball just kind of grounds her and puts her back where she feels best."

Said Stiles: "I do it every single day. I've actually got a few more shots to put up. I just know I have to keep it up if I'm going to make it on this level."

As for her first practice, Stiles said she "got a feel of how Coach Hargrove runs her practices. I also got a better feel of who can do what on this team. It was very fun, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow."

Stiles was able to get a glimpse of her team when she jumped right in Tuesday during an informal workout with the team. Her flight from Springfield, Mo., via Dallas, landed at 1:30 p.m., and she was the last to arrive for the 2 p.m. pickup game at Club Sport Health and Fitness Center.

"My legs felt funny after being on a plane all day," Stiles said. "It went as well as I could expect coming off a plane."

Said Portland guard Sophia Witherspoon: "She got fouled a couple of times and she didn't call fouls. She just kept playing. That's the competitor that she is and it's good. We need that, and we want players here that are going to go out there and not complain and do what we need them to do."

Witherspoon, for one, has seen this scenario. She was with the New York Liberty during the WNBA's inaugural season in 1997 when former Connecticut star Rebecca Lobo was the focus of the team's -- and the WNBA's -- marketing push.

"What the team did was we embraced that," Witherspoon said. "We just took her under our wings. Just having that much pressure coming out of college and so much expectations, it's a lot to handle. We just told her, 'Hey, just relax and play your game. We know you're going to get the attention, but be yourself.'

"We're going to do the same thing with Jackie. It's a lot of pressure coming on her. Everybody knows what she can do, but I think with her, she's very humble. She's not going to let it go to her head. She knows that all eyes are on her right now, and she's going to give the people what they want to see.

"She's a competitor and she's going to play."

Still, Stiles admits it will be a transition in many ways. This will be the first time she has lived by herself, and the fun and games of college basketball will give way to the seriousness and business of the WNBA.

"I don't know if you want to call basketball a real job," Stiles said. "But it is a job."

Which may suit her, and Hargrove, just fine.

"What I care about is when she gets on the floor," Hargrove said. "I don't want her to be overwhelmed with all the media attention because she's starting a whole new phase of her career. Being able to focus on basketball and step in and take care of her business is what she wants."

Just don't look for Stiles to continue those 1 a.m. workouts.

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