Just nine games into her college career, Penn freshman guard Kayla Padilla is already making a big impact.
The Torrance, Calif., native is averaging 19.4 points per game, with at least 14 points in every contest so far. She’s the No. 2-ranked scorer among all freshmen in Division I women’s basketball, and the leading scorer overall in the Ivy League by over 2 points per game.
In Friday’s 53-49 win over Drexel at the Palestra, she delivered 17 points, 2 assists and 3 rebounds. The Dragons kept a lid on her in the first half, but she broke out with back-to-back threes in the third quarter. Those shots helped Penn turn a 22-13 deficit late in the second quarter into a 39-28 lead late in the third.
Padilla is not surprised by how much attention she now gets from opponents.
“It’s been quite the adjustment, [the] conditioning and overall just the culture of Division I basketball, but one of the reasons why I came to Penn is because I knew they’d offer such a great transition into getting ready for that type of level,” she said. “Now that teams know what I’m capable of, it’ll be an adjustment trying to maintain the same level of play, but it’s a challenge I’m willing to take on.”
Quakers coach Mike McLaughlin isn’t normally one for hype, but in this case, he’s allowing himself some.
“When you have a kid that can score in the open court, score in the half-court, shoot the three, can get to the foul line, make her teammates better — I think our ceiling is, we like to use that word, it’s high,” he said. “I think eventually, she’s going to lead this group. She may lead it statistically now, but I think she’ll be the face of this as we go forward.”
A McDonald’s All-American nominee in high school, Padilla got on Penn’s radar with a little help from former Penn men’s player Camryn Crocker, who’s now on the staff of Stanford’s men’s team. Crocker’s sister played AAU basketball with Padilla, and Camryn helped spread the word.
“Academics was always a priority in my recruiting process, and you can’t really go wrong with the Ivy League," Padilla said. "The coaching staff here really made it an emphasis to build a great relationship with me early on, and I really valued that as the recruiting process went on.”
(Padilla isn’t the only player Crocker has helped steer to the Palestra. He previously was an assistant at the Northfield Mount Hermon prep school in western Massachusetts, from which Steve Donahue recruited star big man AJ Brodeur and likely successor Max Lorca-Lloyd.)
The quality of the basketball mattered, too. The Ivy League ranked No. 9 in conference RPI in the 2017-18 season and No. 11 last year, and is again No. 9 this year — above the Atlantic 10, West Coast Conference and Conference USA, among others.
“As my recruiting process went on, there were more and more top-rated recruits coming here,” Padilla said. “I feel like a lot of people really underestimate the teams that we have in this league.”