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Jenel Stevens goes from Canisius basketball to 'Black Panther'

You never know where a basketball career made lead you.

For Jenel Stevens, it took her into a career as a stunt woman and a prominent role in the blockbuster movie "Black Panther."

One of the most decorated players in Canisius College women's basketball history, Stevens was part of the Dora Milaje, the bodyguards of the Black Panther in the production that is redefining superhero movies.

It's been a career evolution for Stevens. After her playing days ended in 2004 she was an assistant for the Griffs while earning her master's degree.

Stevens then went into personal training and started practicing martial arts. She opened her own business in New York City (she's from Freeport) and while training other clients, mentioned to a friend that she'd like to do stunts for television and movies. Her name circulated and she started getting jobs, including a few where she had the comfortable position of doing basketball stunts.

"I was hired for my prowess in basketball," Stevens said with a laugh. Of course she has plenty of basketball skill. She was just the second player for Canisius to ever win the women's Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference player of the year honor. She ranks fourth all-time in career scoring with 1,590 points and 876 rebounds to boot.

But by 2016 when she submitted her resume to Marvel, not knowing that the upcoming production was for "Black Panther," her new perfected martial arts skilled helped get her in the door for a one-day audition in Atlanta. Shortly after that, she landed the gig and began working on the project for about four months.

And if you thought playing Division I basketball can be intense (and it certainly can be) try training to be part of one of the most elite bodyguard units in fictional history.

"It was one of the most intense projects I've worked on," Stevens said by phone on Friday. " We had to train for eight hours a day for months. We had to be very savvy with the staff, which on screen showed as spear. We had to train for functional hitting and on taking reactions. We also had to do the flurries of moves that look pretty on camera. And we had to be in sync with each other, fighting in a group. That learning all took some time."

Stevens never expected to land so big a role so early in her stunt career. She also didn't anticipate the impact the movie "Black Panther" would have across the United States once it was it released.

"When you're filming, you're working with the small, moving parts and you don't see the big picture," Stevens said. "But to see it on screen, it feels amazing to be such a big part of a movie like this because it has such a strong message along with being entertaining. It's been a complete honor and privilege to have been a part of something that transcends generations. I got to see African-American kids looking at the posters saying and point and say 'That's me.' That brought me to tears to see what a movement this movie has become.

"Also it's such an honor not only to be part of a minority cast but also to be a strong female presence in the movie, that we're not oversexualized. We are seen and respected not only as strong, fierce warriors but as intelligent people and important figures in a noble arena."

There are three more movies due out in 2018 which feature Stevens' work as a stunt double including "Avengers: Infinity War," "First Match" and "Breaking In" where she is the stunt double for Gabrielle Union.

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