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ISU Redbird Soaks Up Cultural Experience In Tokyo Olympics

Group of women pose for team photo
Jada Stinson, bottom right, and her teammates on the Puerto Rico women's basketball team pose for a selfie while in Tokyo during the summer Olympics.

A newcomer to the Illinois State women's basketball team has dreams of playing professionally, but the one-year pandemic delay in the Olympics gave her another showcase she had never imagined.

Jada Stinson played for the Puerto Rico National Team in March and — before she knew it — she was headed to Tokyo.

Jada Stinson played for the Puerto Rico national team in women's basketball at the Tokyo Olympics.
Jada Stinson played for the Puerto Rico national team in women's basketball at the Tokyo Olympics.

“When I got the opportunity to play with the Puerto Rican national team, it was a cool idea. I didn’t really think too much of it until afterward when they ask me to go try out,” Stinson said. “I (thought) there was a possibility of going to the Olympics. That made a goal but it was never an original goal."

Stinson has lived her entire life in the United States and comes from a military family that has moved frequently. Stinson said that created some cultural barriers for her as represented her mother's native land in the summer games.

“A lot of us get hate for not being born on the island,” she said, referring to herself and her teammates, many of whom were both in the United States. “(They say) we’re not real Puerto Ricans.”

Puerto Rico went winless at the Tokyo Games, but Stinson said the Olympics were an “amazing” experience, adding she learned how to make sushi, visit many landmarks and meet athletes from all over the world.

Stinson said the lack of fans at the Olympics because of pandemic restrictions zapped much of the energy from the arena that players feed off of to perform at their best.

“My dad said he could hear me on the mic,” she recalled. “It was kind of boring. I could only do so much with cheering.”

Stinson said her Olympic experience also taught her how to improve her diet to maximize performance and how to prepare for a potential future in international basketball, from how to find an agent to how to handle a more physical style of play than she’s used to in college.

Stinson said she hopes to make it to the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) after her playing days are over at ISU. Stinson said she may also look to play overseas. Stinson will have two years of eligibility remaining. Stinson led Arkansas State in scoring last season. She also played previously at Memphis.

Stinson becomes the ISU women's basketball player in history to play in the Olympics. Charlotte Lewis played for the U.S. women’s team in 1976 in Montreal and Cathy Boswell represented the U.S. in the 1984 games in Los Angeles.

Another former Redbird also competed in the Tokyo Olympics, despite a serious injury. Aisha Praught-Leer of Jamaica ran the 1,500-meter event in Tokyo days after she tore cartilage in her knee.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.