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Carlee Cassidy: The Evolution of a Star
Carlee Cassidy's name is all over the Retriever record books.
The freshman entered the game with 10:58 remaining in the first half and her team down by seven, and 28 seconds later she buried a 3-pointer. Trailing by three at the 6:32 mark of the period, she drained another triple to tie the game, then put her team on top in its next possession with yet another long-distance field goal.
It was a lead the Retrievers would never relinquish, as the seventh-seeded UMBC womenís basketball team, led by freshman guard Carlee Cassidy, won its first-ever America East Championship with a 48-46 upset victory over top-seeded and two-time defending champion Hartford.
Cassidy, who averaged just 4.5 points per game in less than 13 minutes per contest during her rookie campaign, poured in 14 points with a season-high four 3-pointers and earned All-Tournament Team recognition.
ďIt was actually funny, (teammate) Morgan Hatten grabbed me before the game and said, ĎI have a feeling that youíre going to play well today, this is your chance, this is what youíre here to do,íĒ Cassidy recalled. ďI had a couple big games my freshman year, so I think my teammates believed in me and knew I had the ability to do it.Ē
Her performance on the big stage proved a spring board for the rest of her career. Cassidy went on to lead the America East in scoring in each of the next two seasons, averaging 17.0 ppg as a sophomore and 20.4 ppg as a junior and earning all-conference honors both years.
Now, with just a few weeks left in her storied career, Cassidyís name is all over UMBCís record books. She is the schoolís all-time leader in 3-pointers with more than 230 and ranks second with more than 1,500 points. She is also in the top 10 in a number of other categories, including games played, minutes played, field goals made, free throws made and free throw percentage.
As a junior in 2008-09, she set UMBCís single-season records for points (613), 3-pointers (80) and free throws (175).
Cassidy recently took a few minutes to reflect back on her four years at UMBC.
Gameday: What brought you to UMBC?
Carlee Cassidy: From the school perspective, the location and the education that UMBC has to offer and the diversity. With basketball, Coach Stern and my relationship during the recruiting process, and I had a close relationship with the team that was here at the time. I definitely wanted to get away from home and experience something new, and during the recruiting process UMBC definitely was the right fit and I committed early because I knew it was what I wanted.
Gameday: You didnít get a whole lot of playing time your freshman year. Was that a hard adjustment for you going from being the star in high school?
CC: Yeah, I definitely think it was a big adjustment because I started on varsity in eighth grade, and before that I started on JV in seventh grade, so it was definitely a difficult role not starting or getting a lot of playing time, but it was definitely a new experience because I understood that I was the only freshman here and I was learning a lot, learning the Princeton offense and learning from the older girls, so it was a big adjustment, but at the same time I learned a lot from it and it was what it needed to be at the time.
Gameday: Talk about the America East Tournament that year. What do you remember most?
CC: I just remember although we were the seven seed, there wasnít a doubt in anybodyís mind that we were going to win. We were playing Stony Brook (in the quarterfinals) and we were fired up to play them because they were our rival at the time; they had some good seniors and they owned the banquet with all the awards, and we just felt like it was our chance to prove ourselves. Our seniors had worked so hard for everything coming from the 4-24 season (in 2003-04), and it was the end of their career and everyone just wanted it so bad that there was no doubt that we were going to win. After Stony Brook when we were about to play Vermont, after Vermont when we were about to play Hartford, we just knew that we were going to win, and it was an awesome feeling to be a team like that.
Gameday: What was your favorite moment from winning the championship?
CC: Cutting the net down after we won, just because as a kid you see that on TV all the time, getting the hat and the T-shirt and all that stuff because itís what you see, and then to be able to do that, it was just a dream come true.
Gameday: You got kind of spoiled winning it all as a freshman. Did you then expect that every year?
CC: Yeah, and when you donít get it itís kind of a bitter taste. When you see the other team celebrating, you know what it felt like to be in that position, so not getting it, it definitely stings a little bit more knowing what it did feel like to win.
Gameday: Did your performance in that big game sort of carry over into the next season when you led the league in scoring?
CC: Yeah, I think so. I think that gave me the confidence. Coach Stern had always believed in me that I was going to do great things here, so after that he was like, ďI told you so.Ē Everyone realized and I think I believed in myself a little bit more that I could play at this level and make a difference.
Gameday: Now youíre in the home stretch of your senior season. Youíve led the league in scoring twice, you rank among UMBCís all-time leaders in a lot of categories, whatís left?
CC: I just want to win again, thatís really all. Although our seasonís been up and down, weíve learned that it doesnít matter what your seed is. I just want to win that game, thatís really all thatís left. The way that Coach Stern always tells me, I won it once, Vermontís seniors have won it once and Hartfordís seniors have won it once, so whoever wins it this year kind of takes all the cake I guess.
Gameday: Whatís it like knowing that your name is in UMBCís record books?
CC: It means a lot, but I think the most significant thing is that we brought the first championship here, and then the (menís team) followed so soon after. I think that means more than anything else, winning that America East championship.
Gameday: Do you have any personal goals for the last few games?
CC: I would like to continue trying to become well-rounded, hopefully get another double-double, try to work on rebounding, and hopefully get the win column up.
Gameday: Talk about some of your memorable games.
CC: I feel like weíve had some pretty good wins, but I think this year the best one was East Carolina (Dec. 28 at the Fordham Holiday Classic) because it was like a turning point where we were kind of down and we beat a team that no one really expected us to beat. That was a big win for us. Last year, I think a cool game was when Michelle Kurowski and I both scored 30 (against Navy). That was a fun game because she was a freshman and it was just a cool experience. I donít know, I think we had some pretty good wins along the road, itís hard to think of them right now, but definitely the best was the conference tournament, obviously.
Gameday: Talk about the feeling when you get on a role behind the 3-point arc.
CC: I donít think about it after the first one, but I think after a couple. Like against East Carolina (when she made seven 3-pointers), after my third, Coach Stern was yelling at me when I was passing, and thatís when I realized, oh yeah, I am kind of hot. I just feel like when youíre on, thereís a rush that comes over you when youíre playing really well, and I think you just get so into it, youíre just kind of feeling it.
Gameday: This yearís senior class in the America East is unbelievable with nine 1,000-point scorers. Whatís it like knowing that youíre a part of that.
CC: Itís a good feeling. When we were freshmen, Vermontís freshmen kind of stood out. I feel like (Hartfordís Diana) Delva was known, but she has come leaps and bounds. I think sheís definitely the most improved out of us. And to look around at our class, we are very talented; everyoneís got seniors that are doing well. Itís something to be proud of in our league.
Gameday: Your scoring output hasnít quite been as high this year. What do you think is the reason for that?
CC: I feel like we were trying to get the ball inside a little bit more and not depend on me as much and not put as much pressure on me to take as many shots. Coach Stern and I talked about it from last year into this year how it wasnít going be like, Ďyou have to get 30 tonight in order for us to win,í so we were trying to balance the scoring a little bit more. And I was in a little bit of a shooting slump early on too, so I think a combination of those two put me where I am.
Gameday: Senior night is an emotional night for a lot of people. What do you think youíre going to be feeling that night?
CC: I think Iím going to be really sad. Just thinking about it now, two home games coming up, thatís all thatís left in my career. Senior night, I think the most difficult thing is knowing itís the last time Iím going to play in front of our fans, our athletic department, the people that have been behind us for my four years, being with my teammates on our home court the last time, being announced by our announcer the last time, just all the little things, being a part of UMBC basketball. Playing my last home game will definitely be very, very emotional.
Gameday: What are your plans for after graduation?
CC: Iím going to try to play overseas. Right now Iím just focusing on the rest of the season. If playing overseas doesnít work out, I guess grad school. I have a passion for basketball and Iíd love to stay around the game and be able to coach, so I guess maybe try to get a grad assistant position or something like that. I want to try to go to the Final Four to meet coaches and see if I can get involved and stay around the game.