Humber’s Queen of Basketball hasn’t missed a beat since turning pro
In her third professional season in Europe, legendary Humber basketball alumna Ceejay Nofuente is still putting up monster numbers.
Fresh off of a triple-double performance for Högsbo Basket Göteborg in their most recent outing, Nofuente’s game has transferred over very well to European basketball. Nofuente currently leads her team in 3-point field goals made, average minutes played, assists, steals, and a host of other statistical categories. Now in her second season with Högsbo, Nofuente has become instrumental to Högsbo’s success.
“We’re 11-5 and we’re doing well,” says Nofuente. “I got hurt so I had to sit out a game, and we lost that game.”
After graduating as arguably the greatest Canadian female college basketball player in history, Nofuente played her first pro season in Denmark before signing with her current club, Högsbo Basket Göteborg in Sweden.
“I enjoyed Denmark but Sweden is definitely better competition,” says Nofuente.
In the midst of a great season on the court, Nofuente is also enjoying the regularities of life in Sweden off the court.
“I live in a three bedroom apartment with two other teammates; two Americans,” says Nofuente. “We all had our own apartments but we’re saving money because of COVID. We didn’t know how we were going to mesh and all that, but we all hang out and are good together.”
Culture shock has not been an issue for Nofuente and she acknowledges communicating with coaches has been smooth. A few of the food options, however, have taken some getting used to.
“All the Scandinavian countries are pretty good at English so there’s no language barrier,” says Nofuente. “The food is a little different here. We have a restaurant we get free lunches at and one thing they love is potatoes. Like mashed, boiled, scalloped, fried, any type of potatoes.”
Although Nofuente has warmed up to the increased abundance of spuds in her diet, there is a Swedish candy that she continues to avoid. Sweden is home to the world’s largest licorice festival, and Nofuente wants no part.
“We have big candy stores over here that are 50 per cent licorice. I picked up this salted licorice candy that was the worst thing I’ve ever had,” says Nofuente.
While the sweets may be salty, life in Sweden appears to be as sweet as can be for Humber’s former MVP and deservedly so. Nofuente’s route to professional basketball has been unconventional and earned through tireless work. Nofuente developed her skills in Filipino house-leagues and didn’t play representative level basketball until Grade 11. She overcame a bad ACL tear early in her college career that was so bad at one point that she wanted to give up. She overcame a lack of exposure to talent scouts and has represented Team Canada internationally. Her rise to stardom is the culmination of never giving up on herself and doing things, as she says, “the right way.”
Nofuente describes her style of game as “a pass first, shoot second guard,” words she lives by on the court.
“My motto is I’d rather get 10 assists than 10 points,” says Nofuente. “I’m all for the team before myself. Before I’m looking to score, I’m going to set up my team so we can win.”
Nofuente believes nothing in her career accurately encapsulates this self-description better than the final moments of the 2016 national championship game.
Nofuente flawlessly recalls, “You can probably find it on YouTube, we’re down by two with seven seconds left and a girl I fouled is at the free throw line for two shots. She misses back rim and has one more. She misses front rim and the ball lands in my hands. So, seven seconds to go, I do everything I can to get down the court to the basket and get double teamed. I make a pass to Ruth at the top of the three-point line and she just catches, shoots and scores. Most people go for two and the tie but this is exactly my point of ‘I’m going to pass first, I’m going to make the best opportunity for the team.’ But she made that shot.”
Final Moments of 2016 CCAA National Championship
Nofuente says that pass-first mentality extends far beyond her life in the gym.
“I like doing things for other people,” says Nofuente. “If my friends need help, I’m going to assist them in anything they need.”
Nofuente is a selfless giver and having given so much to Humber’s basketball program, Humber acknowledged her greatness and decided to give her roses while she could still smell them in a Humber uniform.
“The decision was made by our athletics director to retire Ceejay’s number 24 jersey and of course I supported it,” says long-time coach of Humber’s women’s basketball team, Ajay Sharma.
Typically, when an athlete receives this high honour, their playing career has long passed and the full extent of their impact to the organization has been contextualized in hindsight. However, Nofuente is no typical athlete.
“Ceejay was scheduled to play for Team Canada very shortly after our season was done and then likely going to play professionally in Europe the following fall,” adds Sharma. “So, it was decided to do it during her last regular season home game. Ceejay is arguably the most decorated Humber athlete of all time. To me as well as our athletics staff – it was a no brainer.”
Exactly a month removed from jersey retirement, Nofuente wrapped up her incomparable college basketball career with a win in the 2018 national championship game. The win marked Humber’s second national title during Nofuente’s tenure, adding to a resume that includes four provincial titles and three Canadian player of the year awards. Of all the awards Nofuente has received, she says one of her most important achievements can’t be found in her trophy case.
“Honestly, it’s probably a tie between winning the national championship the first time and the relationships I’ve made with teammates and coaches,” says Nofuente. “That national championship was crazy because that same year, I won National Player of the Year and my coach won National Coach of the Year at the banquet before the finals. So when we won it was like, okay, this is meant to be.”
The strong relationships Nofuente has made through basketball also have a large influence on her aspirations for life after the curtain has closed on her playing career.
“I’ve still got a long way to go but, once I’m finished, I think I’d want to go be a coach somewhere, whether it’s a university or college,” says Nofuente. “I think I have the keys to Humber so, who knows, maybe that’s an option.