SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Missouri State University legend Jackie Stiles is busy giving back to local communities in Missouri and Kansas through her love for basketball.
The former NCAA women’s leading scorer, inductee in multiple halls of fame and former WNBA Rookie of the Year is visiting multiple towns to share years of expertise through exclusive one-day basketball camps. Camp dates, specifics and additional details can be found at Stiles’s website.
Stiles is a native of Claflin, Kansas, a town of fewer than 1,000 residents, and says she knows what it is like to be from a small town where athletes struggle to gain recognition.
“It’s been really fun for me hitting the small towns,” Stiles told The Heartlander. “I grew up in a small town and I was used to having to drive hours to get to anything. Nothing would ever come to us. I’ve had a great response in small towns, and they are appreciative for the opportunity because they don’t normally have people come to them.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re from or how big you are. If you have a dream and believe in it, you can accomplish it. But you have to continue to believe even when it gets hard, because when you have big dreams it will be hard. If it was easy to accomplish, everybody would do it.”
Stiles says she instills three major fundamentals to her camp kids. Number one is believing in yourself even through adversity and tough times. Stiles recalls a memory from her childhood when she told her second-grade teacher she wanted to be a professional female basketball player. Stiles’ teacher looked at her like she was crazy. The WNBA did not even exist when she was in the second grade.
Number two, Stiles says putting hard work into your routine is a major asset in becoming the best of the best. She says the key to her success was her hardknock work ethic and consistency, even when nobody else was looking. In high school she was often found at the Claflin High School gym working on her ball handling and shooting skills or playing one-on-one with taller male athletes.
“I always tell them, to be a great ball handler you have to make the ball feel like it’s a part of you. I used to take it with me everywhere. I took it with me while riding my bike. I dribbled to school, and dribbled in the house. I was constantly dribbling the ball.”
Stiles always prided herself on making 1,000 shots each day during practice. Today, she challenges young athletes to do the same and report back to her with their final statistics.
The third major fundamental she stresses to aspiring athletes is the will to be a team player. Stiles says nothing is accomplished alone, and it takes a team of people to help you get where you want to be.
“If you want to be good, focus on making yourself better. If you want to be great, focus on making those around you better. To achieve something really great, you have to help others be great as well.”
Stiles says multiple athletes reach out for advice through her website and she is happy to respond to those in search of professional tips.
“I’m constantly responding and I always tell kids that I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for so many people who sacrificed for me to live out my basketball dreams. I say if I can ever help them in any way and if they are to contact me on my website, there has not been one time that I haven’t responded to somebody that has needed something. I help a lot of athletes in different ways depending on what their different needs are.”
Stiles caught the attention of coaches at Southwest Missouri State University (now called Missouri State University) through a traveling league outside of school at the tender age of 12. An assistant coach from MSU took notice of her impressive skills and invited her to camp at MSU. She attended camp at the university for the next five years and after careful consideration, signed on with the Lady Bears. Additionally, Stiles had UConn (University of Connecticut), Kansas State and Oklahoma knocking at her door.
Initially signing a letter of intent to play for the UConn Huskies, Stiles says playing for the Lady Bears was the best decision of her life and there was no looking back. She knew where her heart was – it was in love with the vibe of a smaller school with great coaches, exactly what she was used to.
Many of Stiles’ young campers recognize the legend because of her new documentary, The Jackie Stiles Story, which was released in 2022 and can be found on multiple streaming platforms and can be purchased at her website. More often than not, the parents of her campers were fans and know of Stiles’s legacy due to her collegiate and WNBA careers. Stiles says the new documentary brought back a lot of fantastic memories.
“This area is so special. I hadn’t seen some of that footage. That brought back memories of how special the environment was. It’s hard to put into words. Now the parents can just show the kids. The timing of everything has been so special, and I’m so grateful to have this opportunity to run camps and impact kids of the next generation.”
Stiles formerly coached at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, spent six years coaching at her alma mater MSU, and coached at Oklahoma University as an assistant.
The Heartander asked Stiles if coaching was off her radar today.
“I never say never. But I can tell you I’ve never been this happy professionally since I played. I feel like I am finally to a place where I am aligned in using my gifts to serve others.”
Besides running basketball camps for kids, Stiles has opened NexGen Fitness on East Sunshine in the Southern Hills Shopping Center in Springfield, and says she will honor a free training session for those who contact her through her website.