PORTLAND, Ore. -- She was the darling of the WNBA last season, the country girl who went from women's college basketball's all-time leading scorer to professional rookie of the year. And the whole time she smiled through her purple and silver braces.
It's been a dismal second season for Jackie Stiles, however.
Hobbled by wrist and foot injuries, the Portland Fire guard is shooting just 28 percent and averaging 7.3 points per game - less than half what she produced last year.
"Basketball is my passion, it's my livelihood, and to not be able to be on the court and do the things I'm used to doing, it's hard to swallow," she said following Monday's practice. "It's kind of embarrassing, humiliating, playing like I am. It's like I get over one thing and I get hit with something else."
Stiles had surgery on her sore right wrist, her shooting hand, last September, and she was in a cast for six weeks. She had about 75 degrees of flexibility at the start of training camp, and hoped to get it close to the 90 degrees of her left hand by opening night. But it's gotten worse because of several falls she's taken on the court. She can bend the wrist less than halfway now.
Stiles' chronic bursitis in her right Achilles' tendon also has flared up in recent weeks, and she blames that injury mostly on her shoes. At Southwest Missouri State, she wore the Cynthia Cooper model of Nikes, which had extra padding in the back. But the shoe has been discontinued, and Stiles had to switch to less comfortable sneakers.
Nike has since dug up a pair of new Coopers, and the Fire painted the blue-colored shoe white to go with the team's colors. The shoes helped, but Stiles practices with such intensity that after Saturday's workout, she could barely walk.
Stiles couldn't recover in time for Sunday's game against Houston. She came off the bench to score six points on 2-of-4 shooting in 14 minutes, but she clearly didn't have her usual game. In the first half, she drove the baseline underneath the basket, only to fling up a shot that missed everything. Later, during Houston's key 11-0 run, she hit the deck again trying to chase Sheryl Swoopes after a steal, and the Comets went on to win 71-58.
Stiles said she likely will have surgery on her wrist and foot after the season, but as long as she can contribute to the team, she'll endure the pain and keep playing.
Portland coach Linda Hargrove said she may sit her star player during most practices from now on, but it's unlikely Stiles will resemble her old self this year.
"It's hard for her to not play a lot of minutes and not be a main cog in what we're trying to do," Hargrove said. "After last year, we really thought Jackie was the player we were going to be building this team with over the next few years. She just has to pick a different way to help the team."
Stiles holds the NCAA women's record of 3,393 points, and she led Southwest Missouri State to the Final Four as a senior. She started all 32 games for the Fire and made the All-Star game.
Even without the injuries, though, opponents appeared to be figuring out her tendencies.
"The first time they play you, they don't know what you're going to do," said Houston guard Sonja Henning, who held Stiles to 1 point on 0-for-5 shooting on June 2. "The second time, they think they know, but they still don't. By your second season, they absolutely know."
Stiles likes to think she's being tested, by someone or something.
"I've had people tell me they think my wrist is a career-ending injury, and I'll never be the same," she said. "I guess I'm the type of person who does better when the odds are stacked against me, and people are saying I can't do it, because that's kind of the role I've played my whole life.
"Hopefully I'll learn whatever lesson I'm supposed to be learning right now."
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