Freshman forward Nila Blackford is an influential part of Kent State’s women’s basketball team this season.

“She’s naturally gifted, starting to come to her own as far as her competitive drive and is coachable,” coach Todd Starkey said. “She’s a very versatile player, good defender and rebounder and has the ability to score in multiple ways.”

When the coaching staff first started recruitment during Blackford’s sophomore year of high school, they did not have any scholarships available for her. 

“We had seen her play a little bit when she was younger, but at the time that was happening we didn’t have any scholarships available,” Starkey said. “We had a scholarship become available unexpectedly and that next week we saw her play again and we saw what she was capable of doing and could fill an important need for us.”

The recruitment process became very competitive and picked up the pace in between Blackford’s junior and senior years of high school. 

“We got pretty aggressive with our recruiting and offered her a scholarship right away and got her and her family to campus and it kind of took off from there,” Starkey said.

Blackford had received offers from other schools such as Marshall University before making her decision to come to Kent State. 

“When I came (here) on my visit I really enjoyed the environment; I love the coaching staff and the team and I like the location of Kent, so those were all determining factors for me,” Blackford said. 

Blackford is on a fairly young team that includes three freshmen and five sophomores among six upperclassmen. This has helped make her transition from high school to college a little easier.

“A lot of them (my teammates) are in close age to me, so that helps, but we’re also really young so in some ways we don’t have that veteranship,” Blackford said.

In her first season, Blackford is leading the team by averaging 14.5 points and 7.3 rebounds.

“I don’t know if I’m surprised by her success because our staff has always believed that she was really talented, but a lot of times freshmen let their mistakes and what they don’t know get in the way of what they are capable of doing,” Starkey said. “She’s done a good job of not letting that happen by playing through her mistakes and staying aggressive which has resulted in some significant early success.”

One of Blackford’s favorite memories so far this season are not about her personally but redshirt senior guard Megan Carter.

“The one thing that’s been really exciting about this season was the first game against Duquesne when Megan hit the buzzer beater and then the Robert Morris buzzer beater was really fun too,” Blackford said. 

As the season continues, Starkey hopes that Blackford continues to push herself and not become complacent with her early success.

“(I expect her) to not take her foot off the gas, keep playing aggressive, continue to want to get better and continue in her desire to compete and win games,” Starkey said. 

Contact Kathryn Rajnicek at krajnice@kent.edu.

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