COLUMBIA — Two years into her women's basketball career at Missouri, Christine Flores was tired of being just another player.
She was struggling at school as a business major and admitted she was an average athlete. It was difficult for her to manage her time as a student and a basketball player. But Flores had an opportunity that few athletes get.
Missouri (12-17, 2-16)
vs. Oklahoma State (16-11, 8-10)
WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Municipal Auditorium, Kansas City
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM, 100.5 FM
She got a second chance when the Tigers made a coaching change after Flores' sophomore year. Robin Pingeton and her staff took over from Cindy Stein, who had a 173-159 record in 11 years at Missouri.
A coaching change can positively or negatively affect players already in the program. That is especially true for upperclassmen such as Flores, who Pingeton didn't recruit let alone know before coming to Missouri.
But Flores took the transition with ease, even eagerness. She saw a new start, a chance to change herself as a player and a person.
"More than just on the basketball court, (Pingeton) helped us out with life problems and academic problems," Flores said. "She helped us to develop every skill that will eventually help us in life."
Flores said more than drafting plays with Xs and Os on a whiteboard, Pingeton tries to extract life lessons from every practice, every set play, every speech that she can teach to her players.
"She's always put everything she talks about in a way to where we understand that once basketball is over, this does apply to later on in life," Flores said.
The most meaningful lesson Flores said she learned from Pingeton was the work ethic and determination required to be successful.
"If you're in a job and you don't give your all, you're never going to get a raise or you're never going to get any better or you will get fired," Flores said.
"The way she put it was, 'Right now, yeah, it's just going to class, or it's making your tutors on time or being respectful of everybody else's time. But later on, if you don't go to your job on time, you're fired. You're getting second and third chances here, but later on you're not going to get that'."
Pingeton said she and Flores have had numerous conversations in their two-year relationship, and what Pingeton has seen from the senior leaves her confident that when the final buzzer sounds to end Flores' career at Missouri, there will be more to look forward to.
"She's certainly a success story," Pingeton said. "She's definitely prepared for the real world. I think she's a better teammate. I think she's really grown from leadership standpoint. I think she has a new appreciation for the importance of academics and in the end getting that diploma."
That wasn't always the case, though.
"I wasn't the best student when she came in. She kind of whipped me into shape," Flores said with a laugh. "They completely altered who I was in a way, just my mentality on everything. When they came in, it was a mentality that I was going to be the best that I could be. So I'm just really proud that I have to give my all in everything that I do."
Flores isn't just a success story off the basketball court. Her performance for Missouri this season has been impressive regardless of the Tigers' 12-17 record. She leads the team averaging 16.7 points per game, and in a game earlier this season became Missouri's all-time leader in blocks. She was also a second team All-Big 12 selection.
But Flores' legacy, like the other Missouri seniors, won't be measured by how many points she has totaled in her career, or how many wins she recorded as a starter. The impact she had on the program will be felt two, three, even four years down the road as Pingeton continues to rebuild the program.
"They've faced a lot of adversity in their time here, and the way they've handled it speaks volumes about who they are as individuals," Pingeton said of the three seniors on the team. "And going through this is only going to make them stronger in life."
As a senior leader on the team this year, Flores took it on herself to help mentor some of the younger players. She specifically mentioned freshman Kyley Simmons, who was named to the Big 12 All-Freshman team Monday.
"Kyley's a freshman and she's already established a leading role on this team," Flores said. "Being able to help her out is really something that I pride myself on because it was important to me to be able to leave that legacy behind, that we establish this kind of player, this kind of demeanor that Coach P is talking about."
Flores isn't sure what the future holds for her. She plans on graduating in either August or December, depending on how many classes she takes in the summer. She hopes to attend the WNBA combine in March or potentially play overseas. Whatever she ends up doing, though, she'll have a diploma in hand and a more disciplined outlook on life.
As for the Tigers future, she said she had no doubt the Missouri women's basketball program will be one she will be glad to say she helped build.
"I have no doubt that I'll come back from overseas or the WNBA or wherever I'm at and be able to see a winning season here," she said. "Because Coach is amazing, and she's not going anywhere."