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Putting the grrr in Tigers

Many of the players for Missouri grew up playing against boys and find they benefited from it.
Friday, December 29, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:11 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

Tiffany Brooks has the jump shot of a man and she knows it.

When Brooks was little, she said she played basketball mostly with boys, and in order to stay competitive, she was forced to adapt her skills to overcome theirs.

“A lot of times my shot wasn’t quick enough, you know, to get up, and they’d always end up blocking it, so I had to find other ways to get the ball up,” Brooks, a senior, said. “That’s a lot of where my fade-aways come from and the elevation I get on the jump shot.”

EeTisha Riddle said she never played with girls until she was in the eighth grade.

“I know me and Marchele (Campbell) were talking about how we thought we were the only girls that played basketball,” Riddle, a senior center, remembered. “When we saw other girls, we’re like, ‘Whoa, we’re not the only ones.’”

And Riddle will tell you, saying the Missouri women’s basketball team plays like men is a compliment.

“Playing with boys, playing street ball, that develops a lot of our games,” she said.

Women’s basketball, both on the collegiate and high school level, has suffered from lack of fans and interest, mainly because of games that, in the past, have been subdued when compared to the male version. But the Tigers are out to prove the naysayers wrong.

“I’ve always thought we were a very athletic team,” Brooks said. “We have the point guards and the two and three guards that can get out and run and create a lot of things off the dribble. That’s a big thing for us, just getting the ball up and pushing it and trying to attack the defense before they get a chance to set up.”

According to senior guard Blair Hardiek, Brooks exemplifies the athletic player in practice, in games and even in the weight room.

“Her physique is so muscular, her arms are cut,” Hardiek said. “She’s so athletic, so to stop her in games is a pretty hard task. She’s a bulldozer if you let her in the paint.”

Hardiek played on a boys YMCA team growing up and still plays a game of “hardfought” basketball with her boyfriend every now and then. She said that Missouri coach Cindy Stein has instituted the slogan WTCT (which stands for work ethic, toughness, competitiveness, and teamwork) to motivate this year’s team.

“At the beginning of the season, Coach Stein has kind of established us as going to be hardnosed and press and get up and down the floor,” Hardiek said. “The name of our game is toughness, so I think a lot of the way we play on the floor reflects that. That’s what we always try to do, be tough. If you fall on the ground, you need to pop back up.”

To say that Riddle learned by playing with boys is an understatement. She grew up watching her brother, EeJuan, play basketball in high school and at McKendree College in Illinois where he is now a member of the school’s Hall of Fame.

“My brother rebounded and blocked shots and he was real intense,” Riddle said. “And growing up and watching him, I just wanted to be like him.”

Riddle’s emotion is contagious in games, Brooks said. Against South Dakota State, she didn’t just block the three-point shot of her opponent, she sent the ball several rows into the stands.

When Riddle began playing with girls in junior high, her coaches had to tell her to calm down. She played rough, they said, she was overly aggressive and she yelled.

“They had to teach me not to be that way,” Riddle said. “Then the older I got, like maybe junior year of high school, it started coming back. They totally erased that from me.”

The Tigers want it known that their game of basketball isn’t like what you’ve seen before.

“When people come and they see us, they don’t expect the screaming. They don’t expect some of the acrobatic plays like Tiffany especially makes,” Riddle said. “When they see it, they’re like, ‘You know, this is the new age of women’s basketball.’ They see it evolving, so maybe they’ll see that and enjoy that.

“When somebody dunks, they’re going to love us.”


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