Very few know the pressure, excitement, time sacrificed, and the overall life-changing impact of becoming a franchise player in the WNBA.
Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu is about to enter this whirlwind of a life. With Ionescu projected to go No. 1 overall in Friday's WNBA Draft to the New York Liberty, the NCAA's all-time triple-double leader is about to embark on this new chapter of professional basketball.
One such player who knows very well what it’s like to instantly be pinned, as the face of the franchise and the future of a WNBA team is former Portland Fire guard Jackie Stiles.
Stiles was selected No. 4 overall by the Portland Fire in the 2001 WNBA Draft.
It was the Fire’s second season as an expansion team and after going 10-22 their first year, Stiles brought new hope to the franchise.
To this day, Stiles, who no matter what accomplishment or awards came her way, has always been extremely humble, says she had a hard time believing that she was held in such high regard as to turn things around so quickly in Portland.
“I had kind of the pressure on me, being the quote, ‘franchise player.’ I’m like, they are calling me that?,” Stiles reminisced.
Stiles’ WNBA career was cut short due to multiple injuries which resulted in a total of 13 surgeries.
The 2001 Rookie of the Year, who also became a WNBA All-Star that year, was the ultimate gym rat and sacrificed her body all too often. Stiles played through the pain of injuries, whether it was her knee, wrist, or shoulder. She dealt with it all and not only played through it, but also made sure to keep up on her media appearances and all the commitments that come with being a professional athlete.
At 41 years old, Stiles has had time to reflect on her two-year WNBA career.
She has this piece of advice for Ionescu:
It’s okay to say no...
I wore myself out trying to meet all the demands off the court and I wasn't able to getting enough proper rest and you've got to rest to take care of your body so it can recover. I just literally was maybe sleeping four hours a night a lot of the times because I was trying to do all of these different appearances, and just to know that it’s okay to say no, to take care of yourself, because I want to see her play for many, many years, healthy.
Stiles admits she was probably her own worst enemy because she never wanted to miss a practice or a game and in turn didn’t listen to her body.
The 2016 Women's Basketball Hall of Fame inductee says she has no regrets, but she wished she would've been able to take care of her body better and learn more about how she could use yoga and other avenues to recover properly.
In 53 career games played, Stiles scored 603 points on 38.2 percent shooting including 40.6 percent from three-point range. She shot 43.1 percent from deep her rookie season.
Stiles was well on her way to greatness in the WNBA.
The Portland Fire standout can’t wait to see how Ionescu impacts the league.
She will be the face of the WNBA. She is absolutely phenomenal. -- Jackie Stiles on Sabrina Ionescu
“She can do it all and what’s so special about her is she makes everybody around her better. I mean, she raises everybody’s level and just her mentality, her skill -- she’s the whole package. I’m so excited for her and all the tremendous opportunities that she has that lie ahead of her,” Stiles said.
With draft night being one of Stiles’ most memorable moments of her basketball career, she feels for Sabrina and the rest of the 2020 WNBA draft class who will now experience a virtual draft due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It breaks my heart that they don’t get to experience the live draft in person, to get to feel the emotion and you just don’t get to feel the emotion as much when it’s virtual, but that being said, at least they have an opportunity and at least they have their health right now, knock on wood. Hopefully things will get back to normal soon, but it does break my heart that they don’t get that opportunity to be there in person and experience a live draft because it’s something that I will never, ever forget,” Stiles said.