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For a long time she was known mainly as the kid sister of Art Still, the All-Pro defensive end of the Kansas City Chiefs. Now, as a 6'1" senior center at the University of Kentucky, Valerie Still finally has her own athletic identity. That was ensured when she tallied 30 points against Miami of Ohio on Dec. 5 and thereby surpassed Dan Issel's 2,138 to make her the school's alltime leading scorer. The game was halted so Still could receive a plaque, the game ball and applause.
To mention a woman in the same breath with a male All-America and NBA star such as Issel would be sacrilegious at most schools, especially those with the sort of storied past (and present) that Kentucky has in men's basketball. But at Kentucky, this woman's place is in the history books.
In Lexington nothing is as important as the men's team coached by Joe B. Hall, but at least now, largely because of Still's exceptional play, a good measure of attention is being paid to Coach Terry Hall's women. Still's scoring (24.7 points a game), shooting (59.7%) and rebounding (11.4 per game) have gotten the Lady Kats off to an 8-1 start and a No. 4 national ranking. Says Rena Koier, Kentucky's assistant sports information director, "If Val were a man, the local media would have immortalized her, and the fans would have built a statue downtown."
If you were to call Central Casting and ask for an all-American girl, you couldn't do better than the 21-year-old Still, who grew up in Camden, N.J. and now lives with Art and their parents in Kansas City, Mo. She's beautiful, intelligent, charming and versatile, and her teammates have nothing but good to say of her, even if they do tease her about her scoring and the punk-rock outfits she sometimes wears. She enjoys playing jazz or classical music on the piano, one of four instruments—alto sax, trumpet and folk guitar are the others—she can play. An aspiring veterinarian—she's majoring in animal sciences—she has a warm spot for creatures of all kinds. Too warm, perhaps. In the season opener, she scored only 17 points because her poodle had been killed by a car.
Other than the numerous pen pals she has collected on various basketball trips, her biggest fan is a little old man named Ottie Feeback who shows up at Lady Kat games wearing the U.S.A. jacket Still brought home from the 1981 World University Games in Romania. "We met after a game when I was a freshman," Still says. "He was lonesome and so was I." Now nothing can keep Feeback away from Still's games. The day before her record-breaking game against Miami, he had a mild heart attack and was hospitalized. However, against doctor's orders, Feeback was at Memorial Coliseum the next day, leading cheers for the Lady Kats. Right after the game Still took him back to the hospital; there was no mob of media types to detain her at the arena.
Even though the local papers haven't given the Lady Kats their due, the university has. Their home games are played in the 11,500-seat Coliseum that was the home court of Coach Adolph Rupp's Wildcat teams until the 23,000-seat arena named for Rupp was built in downtown Lexington in 1976. On a different level, Hall the female coach has a lot of the same recruiting advantages enjoyed by Hall the male coach. The Lady Kats have a snappy four-color brochure, travel by air, hand out poster-sized calendars and generally enjoy the amenities needed to get players of Still's caliber.
As a kid, Still hung around Camden playgrounds with Art and her other brothers. All 10 Still children are big, which isn't surprising because their father, James, is 6'3" and 220 pounds and their mother. Gwendolyn, is a great cook. "I still eat fast," Valerie says. "My friends say it's because I had to as a kid. That's not true, but sometimes it was hard for the girls to get any food." Of Valerie's five brothers, three played college basketball—James (6'7", Maryland), Wendell (6'5", Bethune-Cook-man), and Dennis (6'7", South Alabama)—but Art (6'8") turned to football. When he and Camden buddy Derrick Ramsey announced they were going to Kentucky, Valerie believed they were nuts. "I thought there wasn't anything in Kentucky except hillbillies," Valerie says.
However, when Art came back to Camden on vacation, he spoke so glowingly of the Blue Grass State that Valerie became interested. When she was a high school sophomore, basketball replaced piano playing as her main activity. After Art and Ramsey had led the 1977 Wildcats football team to a 10-1 record and then moved on to the pros—Ramsey is still with the Raiders—Valerie decided to spurn Maryland and Rutgers, which had also recruited her, for Kentucky.
Though her size and quickness would seem best suited to forward, which she played as a freshman, Still nevertheless has had to play center for the Lady Kats. After a freshman year in which she averaged 22 points and 14 rebounds a game, she was a member of a U.S. all-star team that played in Taiwan. On that and subsequent trips, she developed a yen for the Orient, and she'll probably return for a visit following graduation and before she tries out for the 1984 Olympic team. However, at the conclusion of the Taiwan trip, she was stricken with such a severe case of food poisoning that "she almost died," says her mother, a nurses assistant.
"The illness was a turning point for me," Valerie says. "I figured basketball wasn't going to be the most important thing in my life. My freshman year, I was really into myself. But after I got sick I started thinking about other people."