Humber Hawks women’s basketball point guard Cassandra Jane “Ceejay” Nofuente thought her career was over in just her first season as a member of the Hawks.
“It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life,” Ceejay said.
Ceejay, who is now in the midst of her fourth season with Humber, tore her ACL back in late 2013.
“I remember just screaming and crying, probably just because I was scared that it could have been the last time I played basketball,” she said.
Fast forward three seasons, and Ceejay has become Humber College’s all-time leader in nearly every category: points, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals. Last March, she led the women’s team to the first-ever national championship title in Humber College basketball history.
She was also named Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) 2016 National Player of the Year—the first time a player within the entire Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA) has garnered the prestigious honour since the award’s inauguration in 1978.
After Ceejay’s injury back in 2013, her physiotherapists said her knee would be fully healed in about nine to 12 months.
Ceejay beat the odds and made a full recovery in just six months.
“My motivation [to recover] came from my team and my family. Watching my team from the bench that season, and seeing how hard they worked made me want to come back and help them that much more,” she said.
While most players sit around at home when nursing injuries, Ceejay attended all of her team’s practices and never missed a team workout.
“She was always at practice or in the gym. Most people would just stay at home,” long-time teammate Aleena Domingo said.
Most recently, on Jan. 11 Ceejay smashed a OCAA record for most points (55) in a single game. That same night she scored 13 three-pointers, which is one more than the NBA record of 12 set by Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry last February.
Ceejay was raised by her grandparents, but her inspiration to play basketball came from her uncles.
Ceejay values family above all else, even basketball.
“She’s been offered contracts from good basketball teams in the U.S., but turned them down because she didn’t want to leave her family,” Domingo said.
The Hawks have a chance to repeat as champs this season. They are undefeated in 13 games, and have won their last 50 OCAA games overall.
With just seconds remaining in the national finals game last season, Humber was down by two and Ceejay had the opportunity to convert a quick lay-up to tie the game. Instead, she dished the ball to her teammate, who made a wide open three-pointer to win the championship.
“That was the best possible shot we could have gone with. My coach knew I needed to get to the basket, but I saw her open and I had to give her the ball,” she said.
She scored 53 points in three games during nationals, which took place in Windsor, Ont.
Ceejay is confident in her abilities, but she realises that her team is just as much responsible for her success.
“I’m truly thankful for my team. My team has had an impact in every point I’ve scored,” she said.
Hawks head coach Ajay Sharma knows how rare a player like Ceejay is.
“In the women’s game there’s probably not many people like her, but I think she’s as good as any guys that I’ve coached at point guard. Her understanding of basketball is incredible,” Sharma said.
According to her teammates, Ceejay is one of the most vocal players on the court— however, off the court she keeps to herself.
“Sometimes she interrupts our coach during team huddles, and everyone just listens to her. But off the court, she is kind of shy,” Domingo said.
Ceejay plans to explore her options to play overseas next season. She is already the all-time points leader in Humber Hawks history, but she could become the all-time leader in OCAA history if she plays with Humber again in 2017-18.
In the meantime, Ceejay will continue to dominate the women’s game, in her natural habitat—the court.
“Basketball is everything to her… well besides church and her family, of course,” Domingo said.