A magical dream becomes reality

jaddaCyclone point guard Jadda Buckley has seen Hilton Magic from every angle. The Mason City, Iowa, native has attended ISU men’s games since she was in elementary school and women’s games since high school.

Jadda Buckley was just a little girl when she was first introduced to Hilton Magic. Her best friend’s grandparents had season tickets to Iowa State men’s basketball games, so Buckley would often go along – cheering on the team, eating Clone Cones, watching Cy roam the court, and slowly falling in love with a magical kingdom called Hilton Coliseum.

“It was always loud and exciting and the fans were all great,” she remembers. “Here were these two little girls who probably had no idea what was going on on the court, but the older fans were talking to us and getting us involved in cheers. It was just, overall, so great.”

While Buckley became a Cyclone fan early in life, it took some time before she realized she could someday be the player little girls like her were screaming for.

“My parents never played basketball, and growing up I was more of a men’s fan because I wasn’t familiar yet with women’s basketball,” says Buckley – who today wears No. 11 because she says her first hoops idol was former Cyclone Will Blalock. “Then I met Lyndsey Medders Fennelly; when she was playing in college she would come and help our AAU team and that’s when I started to think [I could someday play in Hilton].”

The 5-foot, 8-inch guard went on to become a prep standout at Mason City (Iowa) High School, garnering top-50 national accolades and recognition as the 2012- 2013 MaxPreps.com Player of the Year. She was courted by college programs such as Kansas, Iowa, Northern Iowa, and Ohio State but ultimately knew where she belonged.

“I just knew I wanted to put on an Iowa State jersey one day,” Buckley says. “That stemmed not just from Hilton and the community but also Coach [Bill] Fennelly. He’s the kind of person you want to surround yourself with – someone who wants you to be the best you can be, who wants to challenge you and who cares about you. He has a 100 percent graduation rate with his players and he’s so good with the fans. He says thank you to every single fan that goes through the line. That’s a simple thing, but it’s pretty remarkable.

“Coach Fennelly started with 300 fans and one win, and now there are ten thousand fans and I don’t want to disappoint him. He’s worked so hard to get where he’s at, the least I can do is bust my butt for three hours in practice.”

Buckley knows she and her teammates owe the home-court advantage they enjoy today not only to the hard work of their head coach, but also to the steadfast support of Cyclone fans and the Ames community.

“We’re ranked in the top five in attendance in college women’s basketball, and after you go and play at another school that has 300 fans, you come back to Hilton and you just want to stand on the court and shout thank you,” Buckley says. “We’re so thankful for the people who come and watch us.”

For Buckley, connecting with those fans who support her isn’t just important from a team standpoint, but a personal one as well. She sees herself in every kid in the Hilton stands.\

“When I see little kids cheering at our games, I want them to have fun,” she says, “but someday it may hit them, like it hit me, that playing for the Cyclones is a dream. I took a fun, babysitting kind of day and turned it into a dream that I’m now making a reality. I want to be a resource to those little kids like Lyndsey was to me; I want to be available for kids like that.”

Buckley, who is now playing in her second sophomore campaign after being sidelined with a foot injury and earning a medical redshirt last season, says that unexpected return to fandom last year was a low point in her career. She’d definitely, she says, prefer to save her cheering role for after graduation.

“It was terrible,” she admits. “At first I felt like I couldn’t help the team out, but I figured out a role encouraging my teammates and really knowing the scouting report. You learn a lot about yourself in the game of basketball; every season has its ups and downs. It took me a while, but I’ve accepted that.”

And, she says, having a year off has made Buckley thirst even more for Hilton Magic.

“I’m so ready to walk out in Hilton and hear the people screaming,” she said before the season began. “Anywhere else, it’s 40 minutes of basketball. There’s a lot more meaning to a game here.”

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