Most people who’ve been at Humber in the past few years remember Cassandra Jane “Ceejay” Nofuente. She is the self-proclaimed greatest Ontario College Athletics Association (OCAA) player of all-time, and her resume supports it.
Her first year at Humber in 2013-2014 was limited to five games because of an ACL tear. That brought the point guard to the brink of leaving the game.
“Especially after my injury, there were many times I wanted to be done with this and really wanted to quit,” she said in FaceTime interview with Et Cetera on March 30. “But I really had to push myself harder than I ever had to, both physically and mentally, and that set me up to be the player I am now,”
But she recovered and the 27-year-old — who compares her game to the Toronto Raptors’ Kyle Lowry because of his “junkyard dog mentality, hustle and leadership” — lead Humber to four consecutive provincial college titles (OCAA) between 2014 and 2017, and national Canadian College Athletics Association (CCAA) titles in 2016 and 2018.
Nofuente was selected an OCAA All-Star four times and she three-peated OCAA’s player of the year title. Accomplishments include being third all-time in the OCAA in scoring, first in steals and top five in many categories including rebounds, assists, field goals and three pointers.
And she made Team Canada’s women’s team, where she placed ninth in scoring — 55 points in five games — at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
Nofuente ended her basketball at Humber averaging 16 points per game, seven rebounds per game, six assists per game and five steals per game on 46-36-79 shooting splits.
It’s safe to say Nofuente’s legacy at Humber is set in stone and she’ll forever be an icon on campus. It was further confirmed when her number 24 was retired by Humber in 2018.
Nofuente spent her 2018-19 season in Denmark and the past two seasons playing for Hogsbo Basket of the Basketligan Dam in Sweden, where she is in fifth overall in individual scoring. Although Hogsbo was eliminated in the semi-finals of the league’s playoffs two weeks ago, Nofuente claimed her second consecutive Defensive Player of the Year award with identical stats she had at Humber.
The last three years in Scandinavia was a huge change for Nofuente. She said she has a teammate who returned to action soon after the birth of her child.
“The game is played at a faster pace, now I’m going up against grown women so the competition is much higher,” Nofuente said. “The skill level is increased and the development of players is amazing.”
She said it took a few weeks getting used to time changes and street names. She still has a tough time finding good food spots and the currency still confuses her at times.
Europe is nothing like Toronto in that people value the outdoors more and she feels more mobile even though it’s often gloomy, Nofuente said.
She misses her grandparents, family and friends the most. The connection she has with her grandparents has been a driving forces behind her success and despite the challenges, Nofuente remains motivated.
Former teammates and coaches at Humber continue to sing praises regarding her ability to go out and do her thing on the court no matter the obstacles.
Aleena Domingo was Nofuente’s teammate for five years at Humber. They possessed a unique one-two punch especially in their last few seasons as the most prolific duo in Ontario.
Domingo, who played professionally in France during the 2018-19 season and is back in Toronto, studying at U of T for teaching, said the journey with Nofuente was unlike anything she’s ever experienced.
Going on team trips, hanging out with her teammates, the many laughs and of course, all the winning was sweet, she said. Nofuente and Domingo won five titles together both provincially and nationally with Humber.
The compete-level on the team led by Nofuente was fierce and because she worked so hard, it set the tempo and caused a domino effect with teammates, she said.
“Practices were so intense that in a way the games came easier to us,” Domingo said.
Nofuente described her bind with Domingo as “that connection.”
“She helped my game and I helped hers,” Nofuente said. “On and off the court, she’s always supporting me, always checking up on me and there are many memories with her and the team that made us so close to this day.”
Domingo described Nofuente’s game as a silent killer.
“She’s often to herself, she’s a very quiet person and very humble, but don’t get it twisted,” she said. “She knows how good she is, like we all do and she lets her play do the talking.”
Domingo said Nofuente grew exponentially as a leader on and off the court with each passing year, truly making Nofuente a one-of-a-kind player. She stressed how Nofuente made everyone around her better and wanted to see others shine, including herself resulting in Domingo’s improved stats each season.
A mentality like that helped the team become tightly knit, Domingo said. She likened Nofuente’s mentality and drive to the late Kobe Bryant’s “Mamba Mentality.”
Hawks’ Women’s Basketball Coach Ajay Sharma is someone Nofuente continuously credits with a lot of her success both past and present.
“Ajay was more than just a coach at times,” she said. “He really helped me get better and understood what it takes to win while really motivating all of us.
“I still talk to him every week or so,” she said.
Sharma is currently wrapped up his 10th season — albeit cancelled — as the Hawks bench boss and sports an impressive 181-28 record with Humber. He turned a struggling team into a dynasty that will always be remembered.
Apart from the team titles, he has 2016 OCAA and CCAA Coach of the Year awards on his resumé with nine consecutive playoff appearances.
Sharma admits Nofuente simply made his job easier.
“Our success is something to be very proud of but it can also be a burden,” he said. “How do you coach LeBron James?
“How do you coach a player like Ceejay, who’s really intelligent?” Sharma asked. “How do you even help someone with that much talent get better, (who has) a drive miles ahead of everyone else, who’s always two steps ahead?”
Sharma said it was about maximizing Nofuente’s potential, challenging her by adding to her strengths while working areas needing improvement. That was combined with building a solid community of strong-minded women, instilling a rigorous work ethic, and balancing pleasure with the business of basketball.
That confidence is something Sharma believes his players can use to build on their success in each of their lives. That’s something Nofuente is currently doing in Europe.
She still has a lot of game left in her but a basketball career doesn’t last forever, and no one knows that more than Nofuente.
Nofuente said basketball remains the focus of her life. Yet, she’s also looking forward to the future and where it may take her.
Nofuente wants to leave a lasting legacy and wants young girls or women to be inspired by her and play like she does. It’s why she wishes to open up a gym, be a coach or work in-and-around basketball teams or athletic programs when she hangs up her sneakers.
“I know it’s cliché, but i want to leave an impact,” she said. “I want at least one little girl to see me play and be inspired, to wanna model her game after me.”