Improvement for Air Force's Jimi Blagowsky came from experiences on, off the court

By Brent Briggeman Updated: January 4, 2014 at 5:01 am • Published: January 3, 2014 | 9:00 pm 0

The three weeks Jimi Blagowsky spent this past summer at an Air Force base in South Dakota can't take all the credit for the junior's transformation as a player, but there certainly seems to be a connection.

It's not that Blagowsky spent much time during her Operation Air Force stint playing ball. In fact, the indoor gym at Ellsworth Air Force Base was being renovated, forcing the junior shooting guard to hone her skills in the elements on an outdoor court.

But during her time there, Blagowsky, who has long held a love of flying, was given the opportunity to go up in a Black Hawk helicopter.

She was instantly hooked.

"I think their mission is great," said Blagowksy, who came to Air Force hoping to fly F-16s after being enamored with the Blue Angels. "Search and rescue is something that, I think, is amazing. It's something that can make a huge difference. I think anything in the Air Force can make a huge difference, but that's something that, to me, would really mean a lot to go do."

The enthusiasm Blagowsky gained carried over to the classroom, where coach Andrea Williams said she posted her top semester in the fall. It has also carried over to the court. Last year Blagowsky averaged just 3.1 points and 11.3 minutes, hitting 26 percent of her 3-point attempts. This year she leads Air Force at 12 points per game, hitting 3s at a 37.7 percent clip and has a team-best 16 steals.

Blagowsky said a switch from point guard to shooting guard has helped, as has the experience gained through two seasons as a role player.

"She's sitting pretty and sitting happy," said Williams, who recalls a severely homesick Blagowsky at basic training nearly three years ago. "But she's worked hard to get in this position in her junior year."

For players in the Air Force women's program, finding a driving force to their time at the academy outside of basketball is crucial for sticking through the full four years. The basketball team is 1-10 this season and is 97-396 since becoming a Division I program.

Blagowsky has found that formula.

"When I think back on it to schools I was thinking about going to, it's hard to imagine being there," said the native of Edmond, Okla., who is still beaming from Oklahoma's defeat of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on Thursday. "Being at the Air Force and being around all these people and seeing all the things we do every day, it gets me excited to be able to be a part of something so big and so special and so important."

That's not to say the losing isn't a bit draining. The Falcons have been outscored by an average of 19.5 points this season. It has often been prolonged dry spells that have doomed them. They don't have the size to find easy buckets when the offense isn't churning out quality plays.

The lull came early in the conference opener, a 10-point loss at Utah State on Wednesday. The Falcons were down by as many as 20 before cutting the deficit to four points.

"I think the frustrating part is when you do see the glimpses and you do see how good we can be," Blagowsky said.

Blagowsky, who stands only 5-foot-4, spoke at length about her faith and its role in keeping her focused. She also described the role of basketball as something of a sanctuary away from academy life for she and her teammates, a common ground and interest they all share.

That all helps, but in the end, Blagowsky knows there's no other place she'd rather be. Her summer glimpse into a possible future secured that belief.

"I can't imagine anything else getting me so excited," she said. "Not only about playing basketball, but what I have to look forward to after I finish playing basketball."

Here's the pitch

The 1-10 Air Force women's basketball team hosts UNLV (3-10) at 1 p.m. Saturday in its first Mountain West home game of the season. Falcons coach Andrea Williams was asked to market her team to those who might be considering coming out to see the team this season.

"We're fun. We never give up. We love conference play - that's what we're working for and we've had enough practices under our belt to start really putting together some things. Our freshmen are a little bit older, not quite grown up . but they have a semester under their belt now and they've come up big at times. There's some new faces, some excitement, trying to go up-tempo again and apparently we can hit the 3-ball - so just trying to be like the men."

The three weeks Jimi Blagowsky spent this past summer at an Air Force base in South Dakota can't take all the credit for the junior's transformation as a player, but there certainly seems to be a connection.

It's not that Blagowsky spent much time during her Operation Air Force stint playing ball. In fact, the indoor gym at Ellsworth Air Force Base was being renovated, forcing the junior shooting guard to hone her skills in the elements on an outdoor court.

But during her time there, Blagowsky, who has long held a love of flying, was given the opportunity to go up in a Black Hawk helicopter.

She was instantly hooked.

"I think their mission is great," said Blagowksy, who came to Air Force hoping to fly F-16s after being enamored with the Blue Angels. "Search and rescue is something that, I think, is amazing. It's something that can make a huge difference. I think anything in the Air Force can make a huge difference, but that's something that, to me, would really mean a lot to go do."

The enthusiasm Blagowsky gained carried over to the classroom, where coach Andrea Williams said she posted her top semester in the fall. It has also carried over to the court. Last year Blagowsky averaged just 3.1 points and 11.3 minutes, hitting 26 percent of her 3-point attempts. This year she leads Air Force at 12 points per game, hitting 3s at a 37.7 percent clip and has a team-best 16 steals.

Blagowsky said a switch from point guard to shooting guard has helped, as has the experience gained through two seasons as a role player.

"She's sitting pretty and sitting happy," said Williams, who recalls a severely homesick Blagowsky at basic training nearly three years ago. "But she's worked hard to get in this position in her junior year."

For players in the Air Force women's program, finding a driving force to their time at the academy outside of basketball is crucial for sticking through the full four years. The basketball team is 1-10 this season and is 97-396 since becoming a Division I program.

Blagowsky has found that formula.

"When I think back on it to schools I was thinking about going to, it's hard to imagine being there," said the native of Edmond, Okla., who is still beaming from Oklahoma's defeat of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on Thursday. "Being at the Air Force and being around all these people and seeing all the things we do every day, it gets me excited to be able to be a part of something so big and so special and so important."

That's not to say the losing isn't a bit draining. The Falcons have been outscored by an average of 19.5 points this season. It has often been prolonged dry spells that have doomed them. They don't have the size to find easy buckets when the offense isn't churning out quality plays.

The lull came early in the conference opener, a 10-point loss at Utah State on Wednesday. The Falcons were down by as many as 20 before cutting the deficit to four points.

"I think the frustrating part is when you do see the glimpses and you do see how good we can be," Blagowsky said.

Blagowsky, who stands only 5-foot-4, spoke at length about her faith and its role in keeping her focused. She also described the role of basketball as something of a sanctuary away from academy life for she and her teammates, a common ground and interest they all share.

That helps, but in the end, Blagowsky knows there's no other place she'd rather be. Her summer glimpse into a possible future secured that belief.

"I can't imagine anything else getting me so excited," she said. "Not only about playing basketball, but what I have to look forward to after I finish playing basketball."

Here's the pitch

The 1-10 Air Force women's basketball team hosts UNLV (3-10) at 1 p.m. Saturday in its first Mountain West home game of the season. Falcons coach Andrea Williams was asked to market her team to those who might be considering coming out to see the team this season.

"We're fun. We never give up. We love conference play - that's what we're working for and we've had enough practices under our belt to start really putting together some things. Our freshmen are a little bit older, not quite grown up . but they have a semester under their belt now and they've come up big at times. There's some new faces, some excitement, trying to go up-tempo again and apparently we can hit the 3-ball - so just trying to be like the men."

Xxxx

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