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Nia Coffey was a mesmerizing, underappreciated force of nature

Night in and night out, Coffey made Northwestern basketball fun and ultimately, put it on the map.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament Maryland v Northwestern Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Today is Nia Coffey Day at Inside NU.

Because of the nature of Northwestern women’s basketball’s attendance issues, not too many students or Wildcat fans ever saw Nia Coffey play in person. They all missed out. After watching her around 30 times over the past two seasons, I can confidently say that she was one of the best athletes I’ve ever seen on a basketball court, and I know everyone who did go see her play would agree with me.

For those who don’t know, and there are plenty of people who don’t, Coffey averaged 20 and 10 over her final two seasons, made four First Team All-Big Ten Teams, is the program leader in rebounds and would be the all-time scoring leader if Northwestern had accepted a WNIT bid this past season (she’s still second, somehow).

Coffey was old-school. She never really developed much of a three-point shot, preferring to drive into the lane and establish her overpowering presence in the post. She had no interest in kicking the ball out for threes on fastbreaks. No, Coffey was driving straight to the basket, sometimes out of control, but usually with a speed and athleticism that was unmatched on the court.

It was present early on. Her high school highlights are wild. Only Nia Coffey would attempt a dunk during a high school:

There were many, many nights in which Nia Coffey was the best player on the court. I’ll always remember that game against Iowa in this year’s Big Ten Tournament, when it became clear after about 50 seconds that Coffey was going to shred any defense Iowa planned to create. She had 34 points, 8 rebounds, 1 block and 3 steals. The Nia Coffey Show was incredible to watch in person.

We also have to talk about Nia Coffey chase-down blocks. There was nothing more exciting to watch on a women’s basketball court than a Nia Coffey chase-down block. When she blocked your shot, she didn’t just block it. She spiked it into the neighboring county. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many highlight compilations of Nia Coffey erasing shots because women’s basketball coverage is tenuous at best, but trust me, it was a sight.

I can give you this blurry, screenshotted image of how Will Ragatz, Ian McCafferty and I looked whenever Coffey did something incredible:

Inside NU writers react to Nia Coffey being Nia Coffey

I’ve already written the column explaining how Northwestern underachieved during her time here, so let’s talk about the positives. Northwestern was a completely irrelevant women’s basketball program before Joe McKeown arrived, and a mediocre one until Coffey walked through the door. Coffey’s commitment is one of the greatest recruiting coups in Northwestern history.

I’d like to personally thank Nia Coffey for deciding to come to Northwestern. She likely would have won more games at Maryland, Notre Dame or even her hometown Minnesota (imagine a Rachel Banham/Nia Coffey pairing). At Northwestern, Nia Coffey had no nights off. While that caught up with her every season, she only missed two games in her whole career. Her durability and strength are why she’s being selected so highly for the WNBA, and I have the utmost appreciation for how she stuck through it all with Northwestern.

“Northwestern wasn’t really known for its basketball program, and just seeing the changes that they went through under four years, they still have a long way to go...” Coffey said. “I hope that Northwestern can get on the level of a Duke or a Stanford one day, so that would be the goal for the school and the program.”

Northwestern women’s basketball will have to wait a long time before someone as good as Coffey comes to the program again. She might still be the best player in program history in 20-30 years. I’m just glad I got to see her play. Good luck tonight.