Early on, Jackie Stiles draws two quick fouls in a recent game at Wichita State and has to sit out most of the first half. From the start of the second half she is closely guarded, continuously, by one or two Wichita State players. Finally a loose ball comes her way and she grabs it - a defensive rebound. The standing-room-only crowd in the packed arena, sensing an upset over Jackie and the visitors from Missouri, nevertheless roars in approval, a collective gut feeling, which Jackie knows, that the pressure of sitting on the sidelines for most of the first half, the anxiety, the adrenalin-with-no-place-to-go angst of anyone ever forced to watch while everyone else gets to play, that antsy nervousness has just been replaced by a truckload of purpose. The Wichita State crowd, ambivalently cheering both for home-state favorite Jackie and the home-team favorites in the white jerseys, grows thunderous as she seizes the ball and looks from left to right.
Jackie pauses for an instant, sizing up the court, all the players, her own and the opposing team. She even seems to sniff the atmosphere.
OKAY. Now it's MY turn.
That look, that slight tensing of the body - says there is nothing - not the omnipresent Wichita player glued to her, not the two State players smothering her whenever she has the ball, not the entire Wichita State team including the bench, assistant coaches and State-favoring officials, not a five-man squad of white-jersied, flying, fire-breathing Wichita State Dragons, there is nothing - that can prevent her from scoring.
Some of the pressure, a little, has just been released. As if the finely-tuned motor of a sleek sports car is being primed. The driver pumps and pumps the gas pedal, his plans loudly obvious - peeling down the highway in a screaming wash of smoke and burning rubber.
Jackie stops for an instant, then accelerating like an upright drag racing machine, roars down the court, quickly outdistancing the ubiquitous guard. She leaves another defensive player flat-footed, and faces two near the basket. She weaves and dribbles around one as the sold-out arena noise grows louder, the audience anticipating the action. A half-second later a collision is imminent with the last remaining State player, but a foot away Jackie abruptly halts, the opposing player starting to topple and just managing to catch herself from the "flop" that would draw another whistle by the friendly official and a charging call on Jackie. But she can't flop now, because Jackie obviously hasn't touched her.
Jackie cradles the ball in both hands as the taller State player puts up both arms expecting Jackie to jump. She is between Jackie and the basket, directly blocking it.
Jackie has a favorite shot, a "fadeaway jumper" that gives both herself and the ball room from opposing bodies and hands and also prevents her from gathering charging calls from even the most biased referees.
The Fadeaway Jumper is several things happening at the same time. Jackie pulls up, facing the basket, jumps - and this is not a jump towards the basket, but a jump in which she is suddenly airborne but falling away - and brings the ball overhead. At the top or her arc she releases the ball, and drops away backwards.
The State player is expecting the Fadeaway Jumper.
This time Jackie brings the ball in low, like a tardy student running to his next class carrying an armload of textbooks. Puzzled, the State player takes a half-hearted slap at the ball, like an afterschool bully would put one hand on the pile of schoolbooks clutched close to a smaller kid's chest, pushing and prodding them to fall to the ground.
Jackie moves as if to dish the ball to her left, but tosses it up and away. Released tightly by the right side of the State player, the ball arcs overhead, hits the upper-left edge of the white rectangle on the backboard, and falls in the net. The crowd din crescendos, and even the home court partisans scream their approval.
(To Be Continued)