Soon after she was hired as Colorado’s head women’s basketball coach in March of 2016, JR Payne began searching for the best players in the state.
It didn’t take long to put Kylee Blacksten on the Buffaloes’ radar.
“She was just barely a freshman in high school, but because of her size and skill at that age, we targeted her very early,” Payne said. “She’s one that we’ve watched for years and thought, ‘Oh, I can’t wait until she gets here.’”
That wait is finally over, as Blacksten, a 6-foot-3 wing from Air Academy High School, is on campus and preparing for her freshman season with the Buffs.
One of five newcomers to the team this year, Blacksten is settling into life in Boulder after spending part of her summer on campus.
“I’m so excited,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of fun. I’ve been doing workouts, I’ve been running, and then when we got up here, we went into workouts and we had all of that going on.
“Then I started to get to know each girl and that’s been a lot of fun, too, so it’s not just workouts. It’s been so much fun.”
While CU targeted Blacksten for years, she’s had her eye on the Buffs, too, with hopes of being able to play close to home.
“I’ve had a lot of contact with (the CU staff),” she said. “I’ve loved this coaching staff since the first time I talked to them. It’s honestly been such a cool journey for me, too, because I’m in my home state. I love my home state, so it’s been fantastic to have the opportunity to be able to play at Colorado.”
Blacksten was a three-year starter at Air Academy, helping the Kadets go 68-10 in those seasons, including a Final Four appearance in 2019. She averaged about 15 points and six rebounds during her final two seasons.
Despite being the tallest player at Air Academy, Blacksten played all over the court, including point guard.
“She can really shoot the ball,” Payne said. “She’s making that (typical freshman) adjustment right now, but she’s very coachable. She listens. She tries to apply everything that you ask her to do.”
So far, Blacksten has enjoyed the adjustment.
“I feel like our first workout I was so nervous going into it,” she said. “I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, don’t screw up.’
“I’ve learned a lot. Everything that you do needs to be super intentional, every rep counts. If you mess up, finish it and execute it correctly. That’s where it’s been the most different for me. In the weight room, it’s been leaps and bounds different.”
After doing a few things “here and there” in the high school weight room, Blacksten has done quite a bit in the Buffs’ weight room.
“Weights, for me, has been fairly new,” she said. “I feel like weights will help my game out a lot more.”
After some initial soreness, Blacksten said she’s already seeing the work pay off.
“Definitely I can feel it on my shot,” she said. “For the most part, I can shoot farther out and it’s more comfortable.”
Exactly when Blacksten can show her talent in a game is a mystery. The Pac-12’s decision last week to cancel sports competition through Dec. 31 means the basketball season will start at least two months late.
Payne isn’t worried about Blacksten being ready on time, though. The Buffs’ head coach has been impressed with Blacksten’s work ethic this summer. For Blacksten, the motivation has been simple. She loves CU, loves being active and finds comfort in spending time on the court.
“I always knew I wanted to play a sport in college,” said Blacksten, who also played soccer at Air Academy. “I think I always knew it would have been basketball. In my mind, I always knew. That’s where I love to be. If I’m having a bad day, that clears my head, going into the gym and just shooting.
“That’s always been where I’ve loved to be.”