Meet EeTisha Riddle’s mother.
Sharon Riddle tells you how much her daughter hates bugs.
“Oh Lord no,” she says. “Don’t let a bug get near her now.”
She tells you about Mitty, her daughter’s black-and-gray striped cat with the white paws, who chases her daughter and fights with her daughter and pouts when she leaves to go back to school.
“It’s her cat,” Sharon Riddle says. “It’s not my cat. But I’m stuck with her.”
She tells you her daughter sang in the church choir and that she would often go fishing with her grandfather.
She tells you how proud she is of her daughter, a 6-foot-3 senior center for the Missouri women’s basketball team. She could tell you about her daughter’s 31-point game against Texas on Jan. 10, and she could even tell you about her two-time Big 12 Conference Player of the Week honors.
Ask her about it, and she will tell you her daughter was ready to leave MU before it all got started, four years ago.
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“I promise, I had my stuff ready to go,” EeTisha Riddle said emphatically. “I was ready to put all this behind me and go work at McDonald’s or something. I was so serious.
“My stuff was packed. I was ready to leave.”
Freshman year of college, like it’s supposed to be, was hard on EeTisha Riddle. Not only was she away from her home in O’Fallon, Ill., for basically the first time in her life, but she had to play Division I basketball. Well, sit mostly on the bench while the seniors played.
She cried every day. She thought she was terrible. She missed her family. She hated practice.
“Kids, when they’re a freshman, always think, ‘Oh my gosh, I know nothing. I’m stupid,’” Missouri coach Cindy Stein said. “They have all this self-doubt. And that’s where you try to pick them up, but at the same time, they’ve got to be tough. You can’t play in the Big 12 as a freshman if you’re not tough.”
EeTisha Riddle thought she had experienced enough of that tough love. She was done being yelled at in practice. The other freshmen, Carlynn Savant and Blair Hardiek, were going through the same thing. Hardiek was even going to run away with her homesick teammate.
“You’re the best where you’re at and then you come here and you’re average, one of those things,” Savant explained. “So it wasn’t just Tish, it was all three of us. It seemed like it was a different person every day. We would kind of rotate off being sad and stuff, so we just stuck together and helped each other out through it. It was nice having that support group there.”
Watching her baby hating basketball, Sharon Riddle’s year mirrored that of her daughter’s.
“I was just a wreck,” she said. “I’m not used to her being unhappy. Basketball was her life.”
Back in O’Fallon, EeTisha Riddle was a star. Her large extended family, her school and her church were all supporting her.
“She couldn’t stop because she didn’t want to let anybody down,” Sharon Riddle said. “It was her dream, and it was shattering. She couldn’t stop because there were too many people behind her, and I think that’s what kept her motivated enough to get her used to it.”
In the end, EeTisha Riddle said leaving just wasn’t her decision.
“The Lord, he sent me here for a reason, but he kept me here,” she said. “To this day I do not know why I didn’t leave.”
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It was a lanky body and big hands and feet that brought EeTisha Riddle to Missouri to play basketball.
“That’s what I remember about her,” Stein said. “Just the fact that she caused so much to happen. Because in our defense and our style of play, we like a lot of active hands. We thought she was very versatile because of her athleticism. That’s what we initially saw.”
Her mother tells you she keeps two books which hold hundreds of letters from schools across the country all declaring interest in her left-handed daughter. Sharon Riddle, a single parent on a social worker’s income, did her best to help her daughter research schools and attend one camp every summer to judge what she liked best.
EeTisha Riddle turned out to be most comfortable with Missouri, which was within the five-hour driving radius prescribed by her mother. It was also in one of the toughest women’s basketball conferences in the country.
“It’s still fun going out there and playing in front of people,” EeTisha Riddle said. “The Big 12, it’s fun, because everybody’s good. It’s not no cakewalk games, or anything like that. If you’re a competitor, you’ll love it.”
In high school, she played the clarinet and won several awards. She ran cross country and track and played volleyball. And there was always basketball.
But even her beloved sport was in question when she tore her anterior cruciate ligament without even knowing it during her freshman year of high school. She knew her knee hurt. Her doctors knew it, too. But she played the whole season with the injury before surgery in April 2000.
“I thought I was done. I thought basketball was over,” she said. “I thought I wasn’t going to amount to anything. Being an athlete was what I always was.”
Before she was mentally strong enough to begin rehabilitation, she went through a period of depression. The fading scar on her left knee is a reminder of what she went through.
“That was hell,” EeTisha Riddle said. “But that changed my life. I thought I was untouchable. ‘I’m the best. You can’t mess with me.’ That brought me totally back to life.”
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Meet EeTisha Riddle’s brother. EeJuan Riddle is where the real story begins. Thirteen years before there was EeTisha Riddle, there was EeJuan Riddle. One look at the eyes, and you know they are related: Gold-flecked copper eyes match the copper in their mother’s eyes.
His thick, 6-foot-7 frame sits watchfully in the front row, seat 9, at almost every women’s basketball game at Mizzou Arena. He has done so for four years. He sits directly at center court and has clear view of the officials’ statistics monitor. Big 12 officials even hand him a copy of the stats at halftime for his review.
The regulars at the women’s games, officials and fans, stop and ask him about his daughter EeLise, who was born on the night his sister scored a career-high 31 points against Texas, one of few games he’s missed.
EeJuan Riddle played basketball for McKendree College in Illinois. He’s in the school’s Hall of Fame, and his sister grew up watching him play. She’s a center, just like him.
Their mother got the idea for their names when she overheard a conversation while at Southern Illinois University. The double “E” she heard is symbolic. “It stands for possession,” Sharon Riddle said firmly, “and they were mine and mine alone.”
EeTisha Riddle says while she plays on the court she listens to just two people: coach Stein and her brother.
“When EeJuan really praises her, she’s done really good,” their mother says. “When he’s on his feet, she’s doing really good. She looks at him for that.
“He’s more critical and she gets more upset with him, but she looks for that guidance.”
EeJuan Riddle says he keeps up with women’s basketball more than men’s, even though he played for so long. In his free time as a deputy juvenile officer for St. Louis County, he scouts his sister’s upcoming opponents. He says they talk before games and text message a lot. And he’s at as many games as possible, home and away, to make sure his little sister has support.
“The big thing for her is keeping her emotions in check,” he says, his eyes constantly scanning the court during Missouri’s win against Colorado on Jan. 28. “She’s very emotional.”
They grew up without a father, but with Sharon Riddle¹s seven brothers and her own father, life went on. Sharon Riddle says those seven brothers, the shortest measuring in at 6-foot-3, never had the opportunity to play basketball at a higher level, but some of them helped instill that love in her children. They come to their niece’s games, too.
“Keep in mind that Tish was the youngest, the baby. She was sheltered…the last baby that we had,” Sharon Riddle says.
EeJuan Riddle says he and his sister talk basketball together; they don’t play it.
“I told her, ‘Don’t ask me to play unless she thinks she can beat me,’” he says.
He shakes his head confidently when asked if he would beat her. “If I played her for real, I just know what she can do well. I know her weaknesses. I watched her play every day.”
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Meet EeTisha Riddle.
EeTisha Riddle tells you that if you saw her play as a freshman, you would have wondered why the coaches wasted a scholarship on her.
“Tish is somebody that everyone knew all along that she was going to be pretty good,” Stein says. “It was just a matter of Tish being a little more confident.”
People pay money to watch her play now. Her photo is printed in the newspapers, and she’s even been interviewed on live TV after a game. She signs autographs.
There’s even the thought of the WNBA.
“That’s your goal, you know what I’m saying, growing up to play professional basketball,” she says. “If the opportunity comes, I’ll take it. If not, I’ll probably be back home.”
EeTisha Riddle’s dream feels a little closer when watching her friends and former MU teammates, Christelle N’Garsanet and LaToya Bond, make it to the WNBA.
Graduating in May, she doesn’t yet know how to put her Communications major to use, and says there is no way she will travel down the coaching route with its perceived lack of stability and stress.
“I have no patience at all,” she says about her coaching qualifications, “especially when people don’t listen to you. Can’t deal with that.”
But until either her final college season is over or she learns of her draft fate, she’ll keep posting up under the basket, blocking shots and calling on her mother. Instead of calling her three or four times a day out of homesickness like during freshman year, Sharon Riddle said it’s down to three or four times a week, unless there is an issue in her daughter’s life. Or her daughter isn’t feeling well. Or if Sharon Riddle wants to remind her daughter to bundle up in the frigid February air.
They’re close, those two.
“I can tell that she’s maturing, Lord knows we got to do that,” Sharon Riddle says. “I can tell she’s maturing. Like I said, I’m here whenever the phone rings. If her voice doesn’t sound right, if I got to get up, I go.”