By Monique Hutson
In the practices leading up to the Rams’ first-round playoff match against Queen’s, Cassandra “Ceejay” Nofuente was on crutches. And despite doctor’s instructions not to play for more than for 15 minutes on her torn right calf, the rookie played 33 — scoring 16 points in the 64-86 loss.
“I thought that because I made the effort to play with my injury, my team would be motivated and would want the win just as much,” says Nofuente.
While playing hurt is difficult, over the years, she’s been able to overcome even greater adversity through basketball. Never knowing her father, at the age of one, Nofuente was also abandoned by her mother — being left in the care of her grandparents.
Without parents to look up to, Nofuente found solace in watching her two uncles whenever they were playing at the basketball court.
“I always followed them, even when they didn’t want me to,” Nofuente says. “Eventually they taught me how to dribble, to shoot, to do everything. They helped me get to this point, to get to university, and to get all the trophies in my room.”
By the time she was in the sixth grade, Nofuente was a certified baller.
“I don’t remember much,” she says of her first middle school game. “But I just know that the coach loved me. Everyone loved me.”
She went on to be named team MVP that season — much to the chagrin of one of her eighth-grade teammates.
“That girl wanted to punch me in my face,” Nofuente says, laughing.
She continued that success at the next level — making her high school squad as a freshman. In her senior year at Downsview Secondary School, the name Ceejay became synonymous with elite basketball, with the star point guard averaging 21 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists per game.
Family has always been a top priority for Nofuente, so when she chose Ryerson over other recruiting schools — including Windsor, winners of the previous three national championships — it was to be closer to her grandparents, who she says always gave her the support she needed on and off the court.
And though Nofuente’s mother wasn’t around in her youth, basketball has brought them a bit closer together. Her mother even showed up to a few of her games this season.
“It’s nice to get to know her again,” says Nofuente. “I see her about once a week now, so I guess things change.”
One thing that’s never changed was Nofuente’s knack for success. After averaging 12.6 points. 6.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game in her first season with the Rams, she was named OUA East Rookie of the Year, a second-team OUA All-star, and a member of the CIS All-rookie team.