For all of her success and inner drive, it is Joslyn Tinkle's heart that is still most compelling.
She bears it without reservation. A trusting soul, genuine and honest.
These days Tinkle is on top of the women's college basketball world as a member of the second-ranked Stanford team. Some may argue that, but where would you rather play and earn a degree?
One of the best things about Joslyn is that competing around the world and cruisin' Cali hasn't changed her. She gives it to you straight on the subject of her roots, leaving you with a lump in your throat.
"As wonderful as it is here, it has been extremely difficult for me to be away from Missoula and my family and friends," she said in an interview with the Missoulian. "Missoula will forever be my home. It will always have such a big part in my heart. I love the people and I think everyone knows how I miss it."
The past six months haven't been easy for Tinkle. It's one thing to seize a scholarship opportunity at a university with lofty academic standards, it's another to follow through when school is a buzzsaw and your foot is burning from a stress fracture.
Fortunately this resilient teenager understands degree of difficulty is sometimes in direct correlation with level of success. If it wasn't hard then everyone would play and study at Stanford. The hard is what makes it so good.
"I had a pretty good idea," she admits, "I'd have my work cut out for me."
Joslyn spends a lot of time reading and writing papers - probably more than most of us did in college. Then there's the basketball, which was the fun part until her injury put her on the shelf just as her first season was starting. She sat for six weeks, returning just before Christmas.
"I had a little rock in the road at the beginning," she explains. "Being away from home and not being able to go play, it was tough. It was also difficult because of how excited I was and how excited they were to have me help."
Things are much better these days. Tinkle got her first start Saturday, racking up eight points and nine rebounds in a win over Cal. She also had three blocks and ranks second on her team in that category with 23.
"It's different from having a major role through high school," she said of coming off the bench almost all season. "It's a challenge, but it's been so great to learn from my teammates.
"For me when I get in there it's just kind of relax, don't rush things, work hard, do my part defensively. Then things will come offensively."
The closer we get to NCAA tournament time, the easier it is to understand why Tinkle chose Stanford (28-1). Her team is poised to make a serious run at the national championship.
Standing in its way is a present-day version of John Wooden's UCLA men's teams. Even the most casual fan knows something about UConn's juggernaut in women's college hoops.
But Tinkle and her teammates bow to no one.
"As much as we take it game by game, we always have them in the back of our heads knowing what we're trying to build toward," she said. "We want to see them in the end.
"I definitely think they're beatable. They're a great team, great leaders, they play well as a team with a great coach. But playing them this year we did have a pretty good first half with them and we were up a couple points at halftime."
No matter what happens or how hectic life gets for Joslyn, she still talks to her parents in Missoula daily.
"If they slip up and don't call I'll let them have it," she joked. "The really hard part is not having my dad see me play a whole lot, but he's been out here two or three times. I'm looking forward to coming home in the summer."
It's funny how things work sometimes. Someone exceptional leaves for greener pastures and you start thinking about exactly where your town fits in the pecking order.
Then you listen to Joslyn talk about the place she left behind, or read her ode to the 406 area code in a heartwarming and humorous blog on Stanford's Web site, and you fall in love with Missoula all over again.
It wasn't easy for this Montana Lady Griz beat writer to watch Joslyn go off to Stanford last summer. What could've been still stings a bit.
But pulling for her will always be easy. She does Montana proud in more ways than one.
To read Tinkle's Stanford blog, log on to: http://fbcteamblog.blogspot.com
Sports columnist Bill Speltz man be reached at 523-5255 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.