Girls basketball: Home where O'Brien's heart is
TAMPA - Cassidy O'Brien will never forget the day her life changed from great to not-so-great, from happy to feet-stomping sad, to having a chance to achieve her dreams the way she envisioned them after her freshman year at Sickles High to the day she felt like her world collapsed. At the time, her dreams did not include the snow of South Dakota or the mountains of North Carolina, but she's been there, done that, and is now dreaming only of a bus trip to Lakeland for the state final four basketball tournament. After her freshman season, she was shooting hoops in the Sickles gym on a Saturday when her dad walked in. She was about to learn that her father accepted the defensive coordinator position for the brand-new Presentation College football program in Aberdeen, S.D. "I was just shooting in the gym and my dad came up to me and said he had something to tell me,'' Cassidy said three years later, sitting next to her dad. "I knew he had sent a résumé but didn't really think about it. I was shocked. I was mad. It was no family secret that my dad was being recruited to coach, but I thought about it and I knew he wanted it, so it was fine with me.''So the O'Briens loaded up their lives and headed to South Dakota. After enrolling at Aberdeen Central High, Cassidy started to make friends, but she had trouble adapting. "I didn't know what to think, it was just so cold,'' Cassidy said. "Then basketball started and I was miserable.'' Meanwhile, her father Pat was spending his share of time recruiting and trying to build a new program, so he wasn't spending a lot of time at home. "I was happy, but I knew the family wasn't quite so happy,'' Pat said. "The basketball program at the high school was very political, and it wasn't what we expected.'' Cassidy's brother, Cullen, a former quarterback at Sickles, also made the move north. He is the starting quarterback at Presentation and even narrates the Presentation College football facilities tour on the school's website. Cassidy was willing to accept the move and thought she would be the team's starting point guard until the night before the team's first game, when she was stunned to find out she was demoted to junior varsity. "I started at point guard every day during practice,'' Cassidy said. "I didn't hear about anything until the night before the first game. I don't know what happened.'' Pat thinks it was about the team's offensive philosophy. Basketball in South Dakota is a bit different than it is in Florida. Cassidy's team was walking it up the court "I was used to pushing, running and scoring,'' Cassidy said. "I never fit the half-court offense.'' So as Pat tried to put together his team and keep the family together, Cassidy was ready to leave South Dakota. "That's when I started stomping my feet to get out of there,'' Cassidy said. "Our shortest road games were like an hour away. We had some where we had to go 6 hours. I wanted to push the ball, they wanted to pull it out. I had to get out.'' So did Pat's wife and Cassidy's mother, Carla. So the day after Christmas, 2011, the family split. Pat stayed in South Dakota with Cullen, and Carla and Cassidy moved in with Cassidy's grandparents in the mountains of North Carolina. Not exactly Sickles, but a little closer. At Blue Ridge High, Cassidy got playing time, but she was still in touch with her friends at Sickles. Finally, it was decided that it was time to go home. "I looked at how she was doing in North Carolina, and nothing was happening,'' Pat said. "We had to make a family decision.'' Pat made some calls and finally was contacted by Sickles football coach Brian Turner about an opening on the staff. "It was time to bring the family back together,'' Pat said. "I knew she wanted to get back to Sickles for her senior year.'' The family — minus Cullen — got an apartment across the street from Sickles, and Cassidy was home again. Cassidy is averaging around 18 points for the 21-4 Gryphons. Who begin district tournament play tonight. "I felt like it was a dream,'' Cassidy said. "Everybody was kind of shocked, but after a little while, it was like I never left.'' Sickles coach Mark Key had a spot waiting for her. Pat said that as soon as he heard Cassidy had transferred to play in North Carolina that it was only a step before playing her senior year at Sickles. "He said he knew Cassidy was coming home as soon as he heard she was leaving South Dakota,'' Pat said. "It all seems right again.''