Little by little, the points added up to something big. One night there was a 43-point game against Morenci. Another night it was 42 against Monument Valley and then 39 against Window Rock and 28 in Yuma against Arizona Western.
Leon and Ledora Stallworth criss-crossed the state as their daughter, Sydni, kept blowing up the scorebook.
“People would say ‘do you have to go all the way to Thatcher to watch Syd play?’ “ Leon Stallworth says. “I’d say, ‘oh, no, I GET to go all the way to Thatcher to watch her play.’”
The Syd Stallworth Show stops in Tucson for probably the last time Tuesday night. No. 2-seeded Pima College opens the NJCAA region playoffs against Scottsdale College at 7:30. If the title-seeking Aztecs win, they’ll pack a bag and play the rest of the season on the road, although they could host one more game this weekend if the No. 1 seed loses in the semifinals.
No one is in a rush for the Syd Show to end.
“Honestly, I don’t know if I’ll ever get a chance to coach another one like Syd again in my lifetime,” says PCC coach Todd Holthaus.
On a Saturday afternoon in February, somebody told Holthaus that Stallworth’s final basket in a blowout victory over Phoenix College gave her 1,001 points for her Pima career.
No one stopped the game, presented her the game ball or gave her an ovation.
“As far as I know,” says Holthaus, “Syd has no clue and probably wouldn’t even care.”
But it goes beyond that. In her four years at Palo Verde High School, Stallworth scored 2,182 points. Coupled with her 1,050 at Pima, she has scored 3,232 points in her prolific Tucson basketball career.
Only one woman, Catalina Foothills and UA guard Julie Brase Hairgrove, ever scored more in Tucson.
“This summer I’m going to update the record books as far as I can go,” says Holthaus. “After that, if it’s up to me, we’ll retire her jersey.”
Stallworth wears jersey No 44 for the Aztecs, who finished third in the NJCAA finals last year and opened the season ranked No. 1 in the NJCAA women’s Division II poll. But it’s not the points that turn your head as much as it is her will to win.
“I starting coaching her with the (AAU) Tucson Rattlers when she was just a little bitty thing,” said Pima assistant coach Chris Klassen. “It’s always the same. It’s always her best effort. It’s always about the team and never about her.”
Syd Stallworth is 5 feet 3 inches on a good day. She’s had a lot of good days. When she was named the NJCAA first-team All-American point guard last spring, Division I recruiters paused. They would ask Holthaus the same question: Is she really only 5-3?
He shakes his head. “They would assume she couldn’t play,” he says. “They’d look at her size and not watch her play.”
The recruiters didn’t get it. Her strength is her size.
“Syd never, ever, ever, ever stops,” says Pima assistant coach Jim Rosborough, who compares her motor to that of a consensus All-American point guard he coached at Arizona over 20 years ago, Damon Stoudamire.
Stoudamire, all 5-10 and 150 pounds, was called Mighty Mouse.
With Stallworth you can skip the mouse part and go straight to mighty.
One coach who didn’t dwell on Stallworth’s size was Alaska-Anchorage coach Ryan McCarthy. He arranged for her to fly to Anchorage and offered her a scholarship. She accepted.
What does a Division II coach in Alaska know?
The Seawolves are 29-1. Last year they were 38-3. A year earlier 29-2.
“This really is amazing,” Leon Stallworth says. “We kind of got this thing started when Syd was 5. I’m so thankful for the opportunities and for all of the people who have coached her up. She soaks it up.”
Leon grew up in Omaha, and was a football standout at Nebraska’s Midland Lutheran College. He entered the Air Force and ultimately was stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in 1983.
He played 15 years for the D-M basketball team, then transitioned to coaching in youth leagues, for the Tucson Rattlers and finally becoming the head coach at Palo Verde in Syd’s junior and senior seasons.
Together they won 38 games; as a junior, she led the state with a 25.1 average.
Syd took a long look around the country, at her options, before deciding to stay home and play at Pima, a period that left Holthaus anxious.
“I had gone to Palo Verde to watch her play and right away I hoped she play for me,” he remembers. “She was virtually a solo act at Palo Verde, which at the time didn’t have a strong supporting cast.
“The other college coaches looked at her size and walked away. I guess I saw what they didn’t; I’ve come to find that she’s a 5-foot-3 beast.”
Late last summer, after knee replacement surgery, Holthaus was recuperating at home. The doorbell rang. It was Syd.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“I came to see my coach,” she said. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
If she only knew.