Converted 'Incredible' Stiles has a fan at Wichita State
By Bob Lutz, Wichita Eagle, 3/28/01

Jackie Stiles has finally won over her last critic. "She's been incredible,'' were the words this former skeptic used to describe Stiles' performance so far in the NCAA Tournament.

Stiles has led her team, the Southwest Missouri State Bears, into the Final Four. In the process, she has become the biggest late-night television sensation since David Letterman.

The one-time naysayer even caught some of Stiles and the Bears on ESPN2 Monday night during Southwest Missouri State's West Regional championship win over Washington, even though the person does not have cable TV.

"I'm just not a big TV watcher, man,'' the person said.

Who is this person?

None other than Wichita State women's basketball coach Darryl Smith, who last month caused quite a stir when he had some less-than-complimentary things to say about Stiles before WSU met the Bears at Levitt Arena.

But even Smith, who insists that some of his remarks were misinterpreted, uses nothing but glowing verbiage to describe Stiles now.

However, Smith stands by his assessment that the Southwest Missouri State team doesn't get enough credit.

"My whole point was that they are a darned good team with darned good players,'' Smith said. "My biggest concern, when we played Southwest Missouri, wasn't that we had to guard Stiles with two players. I was more concerned about the four other players we had to guard with three.''

Smith has some basis for his contention. Stiles had some outstanding games against Wichita State during her career. But she also had a few sub-par games against the Shockers, including last month when she was "held" to 24 points during an 89-85 overtime win.

"The thing I've been shocked by is watching how teams try to defend her,'' Smith said. "I watched Washington sit in a zone against those guys. I saw Stiles hit a three-pointer, (Tara) Mitchem hit two wide-open threes and then Stiles shoot another three. Amazing.''

Smith recognizes he made some people, especially the massive legion of Stiles supporters, angry with some of his comments last month as Stiles approached the NCAA Division I career scoring record. They included this doozy:

"This game appears to me about Jackie Stiles scoring 44 points. It doesn't appear to me that the names on the jerseys even says 'Bears.' Because I haven't heard of the Southwest Missouri Bears. I've just heard of the Jackie Stiles who plays for them.''

Never mind that the largest crowd to ever watch a Missouri Valley Conference women's game -- 10,612 -- turned out to watch, and the majority of them were there to see Stiles.

Smith's point that the Bears are more than Stiles has been borne out during the NCAAs. Mitchem, Carly Deer, Erika Rante and others have come up big.

But Stiles has captivated the nation. She has even managed to do the unthinkable -- steal some of the limelight from the men's Final Four.

"Jackie is the first person to credit her teammates,'' Smith acknowledged. "The fact is, she's been great for our league and so has their team. I just felt that maybe our league over-publicized her. She was going to take care of herself and she has. I just thought at times it was at the expense of some other players. They're a great team, above everything.''

Smith is Enemy No. 1 in Springfield, Mo., the home of the Bears, but he's not sure he deserves such a title.

After the SMSU-WSU game last month, he went on a radio station in Springfield to take the heat. Plenty of it was laid on, too.

He tried to set the record straight, that he recognizes Stiles as a tremendous player. But he stands behind his belief that there are other outstanding players in the Missouri Valley who were short-changed.

"We've watched Jackie for three years now that I've coached here,'' Smith said. "She might be a little bit better now, but she's been doing this for three years.''

It's just that now, Stiles is showing her incredible wares to the country. And the country is left in awe, its mouth gaping.

Her teammates, her coaches and everybody involved in college women's basketball has been engulfed inside the immense shadow that Stiles casts.

This has been her season. It is her tournament.

There are no remaining critics.

Darryl Smith might even get cable.

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