I’ve had people ask me, “Cassy, do you want to be the best-ever female basketball photographer?” My response has and always will be, “I want to be the best basketball photographer. Period.”
I’ve been photographing high school basketball and NBA players from baseline to baseline across the country since 2011. A majority of the pick-up games, summer ball tourneys and after-school games I’ve shot have been of male players only — a consequence of a male-dominated space, both within the 94x50 feet and outside of it. But basketball is an incredible community, and has been blessed with some of the most fascinating and strong-willed women in sports history who have continued to chip away at that glass ceiling. Names like Pat Summitt, Bertha Teague, Muffet McGraw, Becky Hammon, Doris Burke, the list goes on and on – women who have embraced the sport and empowered me to feel emboldened in what I do.
So, when I heard the news about Stephen Curry inviting two young women to his fifth annual, invite-only SC30 Select Camp in the Bay Area featuring the top high school players in the nation, I knew I needed to be there. I can’t think of another time an NBA athlete has invited female ballers to his elite summer camp; this would be history in the making, and I could be there to capture — and be a part of — another crack in that glass ceiling, helping build to the day when we get to shatter it, together.
I had heard of the girls attending, but only in passing – that high school players Azzi Fudd (class of 2021, 15 years old, Saint John's College H.S. in Washington DC) and Cameron Brink (class of 2020, 16 years old, Southridge H.S. in Oregon) had buzz around them for being really great players. They both made the USA Basketball U17 team this past Spring and took home gold medals from the FIBA U17 World Cup in Belarus just prior to turning up to SC30 Select Camp; Cameron is ranked number one in her class by ESPN and Azzi is considered to be the top player in the class of 2021, with two gold medals already at home as the only player selected from the class of 2021 for both Team USA U16 and U17.
On Sun., Aug. 5, Azzi and Cameron enter the gym dressed for their first workout with Stephen Curry and his team of world-class trainers, including his father Dell Curry, his brother Seth Curry and former NBA teammate Kent Bazemore. Azzi is wearing number 35 and Cameron 22 on their respective jerseys, both in honor of their mothers.
Azzi’s mother, Katie Smrcka-Duffy Fudd, led the Big East in scoring twice during her playing time at Georgetown before being drafted into the WNBA by the Sacramento Monarchs. Katie is onsite at Camp to support Azzi and watches her every shot, screen and dribble – but from a far-off corner of the gym that makes it obvious she doesn’t want to be, well, that parent.
Cameron’s mother, Michelle Bain-Brink, is also in the wings of the gym looking on proudly at her daughter. Michelle was a center on the volleyball team at Virginia Tech where she played alongside her roommate and best friend, Sonya Curry, Stephen’s mother. When Cameron and Michelle are standing together, you’d swear the 6’4” duo are sisters! I also saw Cameron write her mother’s initials on a pair of Curry 5’s during a group exercise; where players were tasked with thinking about words of affirmation, what drives them, what they stand for and to write it down on their shoes.
The amount of love each mother has for her daughter is so obvious while we’re all in the gym, and even though we’re talking about high schoolers, I know it is mutual. It’s special to see basketball bringing everyone together in this gym, and for such strong role-models to be guiding their daughters with vigor and grace. To witness the love makes you feel like you’re also a part of this tight-knit community, and it’s not just because they’re/we’re women.
The gym is full of parents from across the country who have traveled to support their children, a sign of the structure, love and compassion it takes to raise a world-class athlete to the best of their abilities. I see the support on court between the players, too. There’s no separation between the women and the men, either – they’re in drills together, playing together and cheering each other on.
Case in point: Azzi lines up for a 3-point shoot-out at the end of the first day of camp and had the gym on its feet as she made 17 shots. All of the players took to the court and cheered her on from within feet of her. Azzi would again have us all jumping up and down for her after winning the 3-point-shoot-out at the SC30 Select Showcase Game on the last night of camp in front of the public at Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco! The girl has ice in her veins, something I know will help her in the years to come.
The story around Stephen’s Curry 5 footwear talks about his passion for the game and how he’s changed the game, playing the way he does. That all that he’s achieved has only happened because he worked for it. In the SC30 Select Camp gym, there’s a banner featuring Stephen that reads, “Success is a choice you make every second of every day. You have to want it. Grind for it. Play every rep, every possession like it’s your last. Give it your all. Keep doing you.” I see just how much Azzi and Cameron love the game of basketball and want to be the best players and teammates they can be.
When Cameron and James Wiseman (ranked number one in the class of 2019) played a side game of 1-on-1 after a camp session concluded, James dunked and blocked some shots, but you could tell there was mutual respect and a desire to play the game they both love and to just get better. James brought everything he had out of respect for Cameron’s game, and she held her own and kept at it, like anyone would expect a top-ranked player to do, regardless of gender.
It calls back to a conversation I had onsite at camp with LaChina Robinson a former player and basketball analyst who calls games for the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream and select games for ESPN and NBATV. She came to interview the ladies and her approach to that conversation after seeing them play was, “Basketball is basketball.” No matter the label, Cameron and Azzi showed up to put in the work and get better at the game they’re already so talented at, despite their young age. Failure doesn’t phase them and being “women in a man’s game” doesn’t define them. That’s what matters most and I hope that’s how they’ll be seen as they continue on their basketball journeys: as crazy talented, hard-working players dedicated to their craft and willing themselves to be the best possible versions of themselves as damn good basketball players. They just happen to be strong, bad-ass women too.