It perhaps was up on a podium in Buenos Aires, Argentina -- thousands of miles away from home -- that Joslyn Tinkle, a gold medal draped around her neck, began to realize things were starting to change forever. In a good way, mind you, but changing nonetheless. She was starting to see the world, literally and figuratively, in a way that made it seem smaller and more within her grasp.
During those moments spent celebrating USA Basketball's FIBA U18 Americas championship, it hit Tinkle that she was from Montana -- Montana -- and that that fact no longer was an obstacle or oddity, but now a source of pride.
"Coming from a smaller town makes it so much better," Tinkle said, recalling that moment, but also commenting on a journey that led her to signing a national letter of intent Wednesday to play at Stanford. "Accomplishing what I have been able to accomplish, travelling all over for AAU and USA Basketball and my [college visits], and being from Montana, makes me proud. The biggest thing for me this summer was how honored I felt to represent my country and then feeling on the podium that even bigger than representing my country was representing my state."
Tinkle isn't the first small-town kid to walk the walk to Stanford, drawn by its redoubtable academics and oodles of women's basketball tradition. And Missoula is not exactly a place where time stands still, at least not the way some of Tinkle's USA Basketball teammates may have surmised. "They were thinking we still have covered wagons here," she said.
But it still isn't a place where athletic lightning is very likely to strike once, much less twice.
It's tempting to think the place produced the likes of Joslyn Tinkle -- who was good enough to be ranked the 10th-best prospect in the country -- because, well, it also helped produce her father, who is the head coach of a Division I men's basketball team, and her mother, who is a former Division I basketball player. Indeed, the operative description of Tinkle is she plays like a coach's daughter. Yet, "that really is a surprise to both of us" said Wayne Tinkle, head coach at Montana, which is where he and his wife, then Lisa McLeod, both played.
Tinkle sees a lot of his wife's mannerisms in his 6-foot-3 daughter -- her hook shot is a spitting image, as are her defensive abilities. But it mostly had to happen through osmosis because the Tinkles took great care not to "shove basketball down our children's throats," according to Wayne. As Joslyn grew older, she'd have questions and they'd be answered by her mother or her father in the gym, but she'd then take the nuggets to practice and sort them out for herself. The Tinkles stressed two things to their eldest daughter -- effort and attitude. Nothing else mattered. Not points or playing time or wins or losses.
Wayne and Lisa Tinkle may have interceded, OK, once in their daughter's budding basketball career. It was a memorable once.
The place was the Spokane Hoopfest, the largest outdoor 3-on-3 basketball tournament in the world. Joslyn and her first- and second-grade buddies were playing a wildly physical team from Idaho. The blood and tears flowed freely on the Missoula side. They'd meet again in the championship game.
"I hate to admit it, but I was scared," Joslyn said. "I was making all kinds of excuses for my dad to take me out of the game. I pretended like my finger hurt. When we got the ball, I'd run to the top of the key to take it out, so I wouldn't get touched. I was a little softy then."
The Idaho girls escalated the brutality, throwing punches. Wayne halted play, gathered the girls and left. He was more upset with his daughter than he was with the other team.
"The whole drive home, my mom and dad let me have it," Joslyn said, "and that's putting it nicely."
Wayne said, "It was a great lesson."
It may have been the last time Joslyn Tinkle backed down from anything. That would come in handy a decade later, when her parents decided the only way Joslyn could truly see what college life was really like was to make her official visits alone. Because of the distance, Wayne Tinkle accompanied Joslyn on her visit to Georgia. But she went to Duke, Oklahoma and Stanford by herself. Except for hometown Montana, Tinkle's other finalists were far-flung. That wasn't by design, just the way the schools sorted themselves out.
By then, Tinkle had a new independence and confidence, born from a summer on the club circuit and with USA Basketball. And all the visits turned out OK. In fact, more than OK. The last one, to Stanford, was the best, she says.
That didn't make the college decision any easier, however. See, the thing about being a once-in-a-generation phenom from a small place is that the people there tend to want you to stay and make them proud. Joslyn Tinkle had done that, winning AAU titles, then leading Big Sky High School to the State 2A championship last year. But she'd also journeyed way down south to Argentina and made her people proud there, too. There was no going back. Things changed then.
Certain that Missoulans would be proud no matter which school she chose, Tinkle picked the place she believed offered the most opportunities, a place where she could plant the seeds for bigger and better things down the line. And the second she decided on Stanford, she told her parents, without their prompting, "I need to tell Robin in person." Robin Selvig has been the head coach of the women's team at Montana for 31 years and it was in his gym and at his camps that Joslyn grew up. His office literally sits four feet from her father's, which made for some awkward times during her recruitment.
There was no backing down. So early Wednesday morning, Joslyn Tinkle went to Selvig's office to have a most difficult conversation. Because that's what you do when you're leaving a place like Missoula, Montana.
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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A member of the McDonald's All-American and Parade All-American Selection Committees, he formerly coached girls club basketball, was the editor-in-chief of an online sports network, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.