By Caleb Barron
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Christine Flores is an outlier. The senior from San Antonio is not cut from the same cloth as Hall of Fame post players Bill Russell, Rebecca Lobo, Patrick Ewing and countless others who played with angry eyebrows and forearm shivers. But that hasn't stopped her from becoming one of the most productive "bigs" in the Big 12.
Assuming Flores stays healthy, she will soon break the University of Missouri's single season block record -- a ho-hum five-block effort against Oklahoma already vaulted her to the top of the school's career list. Her production in 2011-2012 has been consistently exceptional (18.7 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 3.5 BPG). In early December, she became the first Tiger to record a triple-double (25 points, 14 rebounds, 10 blocks against Eastern Illinois) in 17 years, even if she didn't know it until after the game.
"When I went into the media room, [the media] made it sound like I didn't get it," Flores said. "Later on in the interview they asked how it felt to get the triple-double. I was like, ‘Wait, I got it?'"
Playing the game oblivious to the numbers and pressures of her surroundings is a trademark of Flores'. Unlike the laundry list of post players that intimidate on the court, she has replaced the scowl for the smile.
"I don't want to play because I have to or because I'm doing it for somebody or something," Flores said. "I'm doing it for myself and I want to have fun with it."
Off-the-court and on, Flores is always having a good time. She credits her parents for developing an infectious joy that stems from allowing her the freedom to choose her own activities; Flores didn't start playing basketball until fifth grade, despite her advanced height. Her teammates and roommate, Tori Niemann, says the laughter never stops in "The Pound" (tenant-appointed nickname for their apartment due to a love of furry, four-legged animals). Still, Flores recognizes a need to become more intense on the court. Missouri Head Coach Robin Pingeton agrees.
"I know [smiling] means a lot to her, but just her understanding the perception, body language, all this stuff that goes with that," Pingeton said. "That was a little bit of a process because old habits die hard."
The process has been truly embraced by Flores in the year and a half she has been coached by Pingeton. The senior forward says Pingeton and her coaching staff "whipped her life around" when they got to Columbia. She attributes the life lessons instilled into each practice as key cultivators of her intangibles.
"I just focused on basketball," Flores said. "That's what I thought I was here for. They changed my mind that yeah, basketball is what I'm here for but it's the degree that matters."
Pingeton notes the team's transition hasn't always been easy.
"We've had a lot of tough love conversations over the past year and a half," Pingeton said.
Paired with her infectious smile and penchant to keep the glass half full, Flores could be poised for a post-basketball career in making a positive impact. She has admitted to already thinking about motivation speaking or teaching the game of basketball to kids.
Or perhaps both.
Just as Flores differs in approach to the game she also differs in heritage. She is Mexican American, an ethnicity that is rarely represented in basketball. Not only did Flores end up loving the sport, she also was blessed with the genetics to thrive. She calls growing to 6'3" "lucky." In the near future, she plans on paying it forward.
"There are Mexican children out there who don't have the greatest lifestyle and I've seen it," Flores said.
Flores sees basketball as an opportunity to live a healthy lifestyle. She has the athletic background, cultural understanding and outgoing personality, to teach the sport to a specific community of people.
"It's a really big cliche, but when you play sports it takes out a lot of excess energy and anger," Flores said. "If you have [built-up engergy], you can spend your time wisely doing that in any sport."
Flores and her teammates know they are spending their energy rebuilding MU's women's basketball program. Although they haven't had as much success as they'd like, they sense the coaching staff is starting to turn things around. It's simply up to the team to put forth the effort. Keep working, keep driving, keep giving their very best each time on the court.
And keep smiling.