Blazing A New Path

December 11, 1998

EAST LANSING, Mich. - It's been a long road back to the Midwest for freshman forward Jill Blazek. Born in Hammond, Ind., she spent 16 of her 18 years living in Arizona and New Mexico.

A desire to play at a Big Ten school lured Blazek to the state of Michigan and closer to the family she left behind as a toddler.

At just 2 years of age Blazek lost her mother, Ginni, to a heart problem. After her father, Jack, remarried it was off to Phoenix where her stepmother, Michele, landed a teaching job at Arizona State University. Eight years later, the family moved to Albuquerque.

"It gets pretty hard sometimes because I never knew her," Blazek said of her mother. "My dad always talked about her and my stepmother would talk to me about her because they were friends in high school. I was very appreciative of that."

Over the years, Blazek developed a special bond with her stepmother, Michele. After her father and Michele divorced, Blazek didnt speak with the only mother she had ever known for almost three years. But when she needed someone the most, her stepmother was there.

"I needed to move out of my dads house for personal reasons and she was there for me," Blazek recalls. "I was just grateful she was, because I never would have known what to do."

A troubled childhood didnt keep Blazek from excelling on the basketball court. She credits her father with developing her early skills and her AAU coach, Martin Arrambide with fine-tuning her game.

"Martin had a big influence on me and I consider him to be a second father," Blazek said. At the high school level, it was nothing but success for the 6-2 post player. A three-time all-state honoree, she scored 1,298 points in her career and in 1998, led Rio Grande to the schools first-ever state championship.

Blazek averaged 16.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game as a senior to earn USA Today All-USA honorable mention honors.

One visit to the MSU campus was all it took for Blazek to realize a return to the Midwest was the right move.

"I made my visit and I fell in love with the campus," Blazek admits. "I really liked the players and the coaches and I committed that Sunday before I left."

Leaving behind friends and family in New Mexico hasnt been easy for Blazek, but she is beginning to adjust. Having family in Indiana and Chicago has also helped.

"My family is really happy because I normally would only see them once or twice a year if that and Ive already seen them three times since I have been in Michigan," Blazek says.

On the court, Blazek is beginning to realize what it takes to play at the collegiate level. "I never had to play defense in high school," Blazek admits. "My goal right now is to get better defensively. In high school, I was expected to score 20 points a night for us to win and I dont need to do that anymore.

"I need to adjust to a new role and that means playing defense, going out and getting rebounds and doing the things that the team needs me to do."

According to Spartan coach Karen Langeland, Blazek isnt different than any other freshman adjusting to the collegiate game.

"She is a typical freshman who needs to learn to play defense," Langeland said. "Offensively, she has one of the best releases on her shot of anyone Ive seen. For someone who plays in the post she has great range.

"I really believe before this season is over, Jill is going to be an integral part of our game," Langeland added.

Succeeding on the basketball court isnt the only challenge facing Blazek at Michigan State. Her chosen field of study is nursing, a program she realizes will be even more difficult as a student-athlete.

"Ive always dreamed about working with babies," Blazek said. "I just love children and ever since I was little that is what I wanted to do. It will be difficult with basketball, but its just one more thing that I have to get used to."

For someone who has adjusted all her life to adversity and challenges, it should be a successful transition.

By Lori Schulze, Assistant Sports Information Director