Cassie Bell never touched a basketball until the 8th grade. Of course she had passed one around from time to time but she didn’t place her hands on the lines of the basketball gripping its incredible potential until she was heading into high school. Yet, when she did, this San Antonio teen made a very conscious decision that basketball would be her sport. Just a short four and half years later, basketball became not only her sport but her passion. A passion that’s now paving the way toward a very bright future. Cassie Bell recently signed with Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas, where she will play ball and attend school on a full scholarship.
How did Cassie do it when she came so late to the game of basketball? Two words, her trainer and former club coach David Jones would tell you: discipline and dedication. Not to mention Cassie’s ability to be extremely physical on the court.
“When I met Cassie I could not believe that she was a young player,” said Jones, a former professional player turned trainer and Founder of Shooting For Success basketball. “She was tough. She was physical. She was getting 10 to 12 rebounds in a half playing the power forward position.”
But Cassie said her game was hardly on point at 15 years old. In fact, she laughs, she remembers a time , not long ago, when as a left-handed person, she couldn’t even do a left-handed layup. “It was rough,” exclaimed Cassie.
But that didn’t matter. Because when Cassie sets her mind to do something, she does it.
So the summer before starting high school at Clark, Cassie trained herself. It wasn’t fancy. It wasn’t even in a gym most of the time. Cassie simply found a ball, any kind of ball, and would dribble. She would run herself through sprints, and, Cassie would shoot for hours a day. Cassie told herself that in one year, she would make the Varsity team at Clark high school.
And she did.
Cassie entered her sophomore year starting as the power forward on Clark’s varsity ladies basketball team.
That’s also when a friend and teammate of Cassie’s introduced her to Jones.
“I met Cassie and invited her to scrimmage with my team and saw incredible potential,” recalled Jones. Jones thought to himself, this is a player with tenacity and with whom he could do a lot.
But not immediately.
Before Cassie could train privately with Coach Jones, or “DJ”, as his players usually call him, Cassie had to get her fundamentals down. They had to be better. More sound. In fact, the training went something like this according to Jones: Cassie had to make 100 straight shots, all net before he’d work with her one-on-one. So Cassie trained with Coach Deeandra Haggray, Jones’ assistant coach. Haggray helped shape Cassie’s shot and footwork among other fundamental skills.
After a few training sessions with Haggray, Cassie had done it.
One-hundred shots, made, all-net.
So Cassie began private training with DJ. She also played on his varsity-level club team, practicing several days a week and competing in tournaments on the weekends. The combination, coupled with Cassie’s unrelenting drive to be in the gym whenever she wasn’t studying or with her family, appeared to be paying off. Cassie was improving consistently, was the top rebounder in her district both her sophomore and junior years, and, Cassie even managed to hold her starting varsity position through her senior year which isn’t always easy in a large high school in Texas.
Also, Cassie had a 3.8 grade point average.
Yet despite having great grades that included AP classes and outstanding basketball statistics spanning her high school career, colleges weren’t banging on Cassie’s door. In fact, they weren’t even knocking.
“It was super stressful and difficult,” says Cassie. Cassie says it was hardest in many ways to watch all her friends receive college acceptance letters. While she was happy for her friends, of course, Cassie also knew that if she were only to pursue academics in college, she too would be happily paging through college acceptance letters.
But Cassie was determined to play basketball at the next level. It was her goal. Her impetus behind years of hard work on and off the court.
And Cassie wasn’t one to give up.
So Cassie continued to work hard and market herself. She also came to realize the importance of connections and networking when it comes to landing an athletic scholarship.
However, Cassie found herself in need of a little help. Some motivation. A mental and physical boost.
So Cassie turned to the one who perhaps knew her athletic self best ~ The one who saw potential when even she didn’t.
With little time left on the clock, Cassie turned to her first and only club level coach who stood poised along the court’s sideline ready to call their next play. In addition to talking with Cassie and reviewing all the things she already had in place, DJ introduced Cassie to a friend and former colleague who’s well-known on the NCAA circuit. DJ fought to get Cassie that one final, life-changing win.
With just weeks to go before the start of the 2019 school year, Cassie Bell received an offer. Huston-Tillotson wanted Cassie and offered her a scholarship to attend their school and play ball for them.
In mid-June , Cassie, surrounded by her family, Coach Haggray, and Jones, made official her dream to play basketball at the next level. A signing day, DJ said he never once doubted. “I knew someone would recognize Cassie’s talent and drive to always play better,” DJ said.
Better is what Cassie says she is determined to become. She knows she has a lot work to do to compete as this next level. Also, Cassie hasn’t given up on her dream to play Division 1 basketball and even maybe overseas, professionally, someday. But those are goals that Cassie says keep her motivated and always moving. “When I achieve one, I simply set the bar higher,” Cassie shared.
As Cassie looks back on her journey playing basketball, she is proud of how far she has come in relatively short time and thankful for her family and coaches who have never waivered in their support.
What would Cassie have done differently, if anything at all?
“I’d have begun playing basketball competitively a little earlier, if I’d had the chance” said Cassie. “When I see these kids as young as seven or eight training with DJ or attending his camps, I am in awe of the opportunity that lies in front of them. But at the same time it leaves me feeling very accomplished with what I have done.”