Jordan Stiers, a University of Kansas sophomore, stood courtside, mouth agape. She brought her right hand to her face as tears formed in her eyes.
Thanks to Bechard, the proxy she had chosen to shoot for her in the contest, Stiers had just won $10,000.
“I was in shock. I didn’t really know how to express myself,” Stiers said. “The crowd went wild when it happened, and the first person I thought of was my Nana.”
“Nana” is 59-year-old Roxanne Edwards, Stiers’s paternal grandmother, who raised her and her four siblings on her own.
“When I was 10, we were taken away from our parents through [the Kansas Department for Children and Families] and put in the foster-care system,” Stiers said.
It was her grandmother who came and brought all of them back to her Independence, Mo., home, eventually adopting them in 2013.
“She kind of saved us from being split up into five different foster homes,” Stiers said. “She took us in and taught us everything. One day she didn’t have any kids, and the next day she had five.”
It wasn’t easy at first. Nana was “very old school” and raised the siblings with “a very black-and-white, no-gray-area kind of strictness,” Stiers recalled.
She was a stickler for firm handshakes, having impeccable manners and treating others with respect — all while “dealing with the craziness of my parents,” Stiers said, who went in and out of the children’s lives.
Her grandmother emphasized the importance of education relentlessly. Over the years, it paid off: Stiers and her younger sister are now students at the University of Kansas.
“I’m a first-generation student, the first in my family to graduate high school, let alone go to college,” Stiers said. “She kind of pushed that onto us, to not be what the family has been so far and to kind of set our own goals.”
Edwards herself returned to school to complete her GED and now works at the University of Kansas Hospital doing cosmetic tattooing for a plastic surgeon. Even so, Stiers knew that bills have continued to mount for her grandmother, who is still raising three of the siblings; the youngest is 10 years old.
“It’s kind of been a huge burden in raising five kids, and that’s kind of how it is with most families these days,” she said.
Stiers said she has always wanted to repay her grandmother somehow for “working her butt off to provide for us, to keep food in our mouths and a roof over our heads.” She just didn’t know how.
Until last Saturday.
The unlikely event took place at Kansas’s annual “Late Night in the Phog,” a pep-rally-slash-talent-showcase meant to get students excited for the upcoming basketball season.
Stiers remembered attending the event the year before as a freshman. There, she absorbed the electric atmosphere of a packed Allen Fieldhouse and watched as another student won $10,000 in the inaugural half-court shot contest, funded by longtime Jayhawks head coach Bill Self.
So when Stiers arrived at this year’s Late Night, she was ready. She texted a number on a sign to enter the contest; minutes later, she received a text saying she had been chosen as this year’s female participant.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Stiers said. She rushed down to the court level, where the organizers explained the rules: Stiers could shoot the basket herself or choose anyone who was not a current player to make the shot on her behalf.
“I did not trust myself enough to shoot, so I picked Brennan Bechard,” she said.
Bechard and Stiers had never met, but any respectable KU fan knew of his legend: The student who won the contest in 2015 had chosen Bechard, a former point guard with the KU team, as his proxy. Against the odds, Bechard made that shot.
With that kind of reputation, Bechard had an inkling that Stiers would pick him. But now, with expectations doubled, the pressure was on.
“I hadn’t shot one in about at least six months or so, so I was a little nervous going in,” said Bechard, 30.
He needn’t have been.
After Bechard once again nailed the half-court shot, he was immediately rushed by KU basketball players — and felt immense relief.
“Basically, the best part is just for that student to get the money and not to let them down,” Bechard said. “She seems like an unbelievable girl and an unbelievable story. I think that it’s the coolest thing that she’s thinking of others first, so I can’t think of anyone more deserving.”
Stiers, meanwhile, still didn’t know how to react on the court. In the blur of it all, she saw Self walking over and making a check for $10,000 out to her.
She spotted her sister in the stands, screaming and jumping up and down. Stiers made a hand signal that indicated: “I love you.”
Stiers’s sister texted “Nana” and then called her as the post-shot cheering was still erupting inside the basketball arena.
“She thought it was a joke,” Stiers said. Realizing it wasn’t, her grandmother began crying.
On Sunday, both of them went home to Independence to celebrate. They couldn’t deposit the check yet because the bank was closed but will soon, she said.
“Right now my plan is to help her out with everything, some bills now,” Stiers said. “I wanted to make the right decision, and of course giving her part of this money is absolutely the right decision.”