The depressed sternum she was born with was kept hidden from Vernon basketball star Cassandra Brown by her parents, Bonny and Robb.
And that was a good thing.
The more competitive the basketball got, the more Brown struggled, despite the fact, she says, she worked her butt off in training to could keep up with the competition.
Keeping up with the competition in high school wasn’t a problem for Brown.
The six-foot-two guard/forward was a four-time Okanagan all-star selection with the Fulton Maroons. She was zone MVP, Okanagan MVP, provincial tournament MVP (helping the Maroons to the 2011 championship game, a five-point loss to Vancouver’s York House Tigers) and B.C. all-star game MVP.
Brown was a fixture on provincial teams, helping B.C. to back-to-back silver medals at the Canada Summer Games and took her talents to the NCAA and the Div. 1 University of Portland (Oregon) Pilots, which is where she noticed the problem with her health.
“It (depressed sternum) never impacted me until I got into more competitive situations and it impeded my progress,” said Brown, 27, who will suit up for Team Canada this month at the Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru. “I trained my ass off because I had to work harder to keep up with the other players. My parents knew about it but they pushed me to work harder, do extra and to be in shape and in condition and that helped me a lot.”
After her second year at Portland, Brown had surgery, the Nuss procedure, which resulted in a foot-long titanium bar being inserted into her chest to lift the sternum. She redshirted (took off) her junior year, and played two more seasons for Portland, amassing nearly 1,400 career points, and became a Youtube sensation when she won the 2015 State Farm College Three Point Shooting Contest.
Fully recovered from the surgery, it was off to Europe to play professionally in Poland, Slovakia, and Greece. This past season, Brown averaged 14 points per game and played nearly every minute of every game for a short-benched Dafni squad in the Greek Women’s Professional League, helping Dafni finish third out 12 teams.
In the off-season, Brown works or hosts basketball camps internationally or at home. She’s been a guest host at Fulton’s Hoops and Hustle camp, hosted an international camp in Italy, where she spoke a little Italian to the kids but relied on the “language of basketball” to get her instruction across. And she’s worked with NBA superstar Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors at his Orange County (Cal.) camp, which created a bit of a conflict in this summer’s NBA championship series.
“It would be so hard to cheer against him when my home country Toronto Raptors are in the final, but I stayed loyal to my country and cheered for the Raptors,” laughed Brown, whose endless hard work, determination and talent paid off. She got the call to tryout for Team Canada for the Pan Am Games – Canada is the defending Games’ champions – as four or five regulars are playing pro in the WNBA, and won a spot.
One of those WNBA players is one of Brown’s best friends, Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe, who helped Coldstream’s Kalamalka Lakers win the 2009 B.C. High School Girls championship. Raincock-Ekunwe, who went on to star at Simon Fraser University, helped Canada win Pan Am gold in 2015, and was part of the national squad that reached the quarterfinals at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil. She plays in the WNBA for the New York Liberty.
Her bestie felt Brown’s call to the national squad was long overdue.
“I talk to Nayo a lot. We met up in Paris when she was playing professionally in France,” said Brown. “She’s super supportive, and tells me to just go out and play my game and be confident. She thinks I’ve been deserving of a spot for a while.”
Brown played in a series of five exhibition matches in the UK for Canada before returning home for a summer break, which included hosting a stagette for another close friend. She returns to Edmonton for a pre-Games camp before winging her way with the national team to Lima.
The Pan Am Games basketball competition does not have a direct impact on qualification for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, but will serve as an important step in preparing for the FIBA Women’s AmeriCup 2019 in September as Canada begins the qualification process for the Olympic Games. Brown plans to use Lima as part of a lengthy audition for a permanent national team sport.
“My goal is to make it to the Olympics, which would be amazing,” she said.
The Pan Am Games begin July 26.