Barry Hinson saw most of Jackie Stiles' 3,394 points when they were both at Missouri State University, which was then known as Southwest Missouri State.
Stiles, a 5-foot-8 guard from Kansas City, Kansas, took the Lady Bears to the 2001 Final Four and was the NCAA's all-time women's scorer until Washington guard Kelsey Plum broke her record last season. She later played in the WNBA. Now Hinson is trying to be with Stiles in spirit, as she prepares for surgery this week for ocular melanoma.
SIU's men's basketball team wore black shooting shirts before tipping off against Missouri State in Springfield Saturday that said "Fight Love Pray" on the front and "Stiles 10" on the back. They are expected to wear them again tonight, when they square off with Drake in Des Moines.
"I was here," Hinson said after Saturday's 79-77 win at JQH Arena, located just a few feet where Stiles turned Missouri State women's basketball into the must-see event of the Missouri Valley Conference 19 years ago. "I love Jackie Stiles. I introduced her to my team (Friday). Told her we're gonna wear those shirts in her honor, and I'll make this statement. This is what I told my team. She's the greatest player that I've ever witnessed, 1-on-1, face-to-face, man or woman. I think that's strong enough."
Hinson, never good at hiding his feelings, teared up at the postgame press conference talking about Stiles. A statement in January from Missouri State announcing her condition (she is in her fifth season as an assistant coach with the Lady Bears) said her doctors had caught it early and hoped for a full recovery. But cancer is an unpredictable thing.
"I'm not worried. Cancer has no clue about Jackie Stiles," Hinson said. "Jackie will kick cancer's (butt). And I'm not worried about it."
Stiles felt well enough to come down to Carbondale Friday for Missouri State's game at SIU. The Salukis won to drop the Lady Bears into a tie for second place behind Drake.
Stiles released a statement last week that said her prognosis remains good.
"This process has taken longer than expected after several more consultations with different doctors in different places, and my prognosis remains very good," she said. "One bright spot is that the delay has allowed me to spend some time with the team this week, and I will even be on the bench tomorrow night at SIU! Thanks to everyone for all the support so far, it means the world to me. I can’t wait to be back coaching the team on a full-time basis, and still plan on waiting to share my experience until after that time."