Lonnie Rowe can remember the moment his daughter, Cassidy, revealed she had a knack for basketball.
Rowe used to take Cassidy’s older brother, Chandler, to the gym to work out. Little sister refused to stay at home. Dad gave in and left Cassidy to her own devices while he helped Chandler.
“I would always throw a ball on the other end and go work out with my son, and let her run around,” Lonnie told the Herald-Leader in late January. “She’s 4 years old. After a couple trips I started realizing that everything I was doing with him, she was doing on the other end by herself. She would sit and watch what he was doing and she would start doing it herself.
“What caught my eye was she was doing it right.”
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She’s kept doing it right. Cassidy helped Shelby Valley High School make its first appearance in the All “A” Classic finals — a first for any program out of the 15th Region — and has the Wildcats among the favorites to win a fourth 15th Region championship in the last six seasons.
The kicker? She’s in the eighth grade.
“I stay humble and listen to what people tell me,” Cassidy said. “If I need to work on something, I get in the gym and work on it.”
The David and Darryl Show, a sports talk show based out of Pike County, has been calling Cassidy the “Phenom” since she was in the seventh grade.
“Within five minutes I knew she was not a normal kid on the court,” said Darryl McCoy, who co-hosts the show along with Phelps football coach and former University of Kentucky star David Jones. “She threw a full-court pass on a string without winding up and hit a girl for a layup and I was like, ‘No girl does that at any age, very few boys.’
“I have been around basketball for 30 years and not since O.J. Mayo have I ever seen a kid this young who’s this good. So we called her the ‘Phenom’ because it fit her to a T.”
Cassidy was invited to the University of Kentucky’s Big Blue Madness event last fall. She’s already received verbal scholarship offers from Morehead State University, Murray State University and Northern Kentucky University. She plays for the state’s highest-level AAU team, Kentucky Premier, so big-name schools across the nation are sure to get opportunities to assess the Shelby Valley star’s potential.
McCoy, a UK fan, hopes Matthew Mitchell will break out “the full-court press” and keep Cassidy in the state. It sounds like the Wildcats might already be playing from behind when it comes to in-state recruitment, though: Louisville, not UK, is where her personal fandom rests.
She’s attended summer camps at U of L since she was in elementary school. Lonnie said she and Shoni Schimmel (a future WNBA All-Star) would play one-on-one when she was in the fourth grade, and she’s played with camp groups that included Seygan Robins and Mykasa Robinson, two current Miss Basketball contenders who have signed with the Cardinals.
“They’ve always been my favorite school,” Cassidy said.
Life on the court is pretty good for the rising star, but it isn’t without some trials.
Cassidy asked her parents to hold her back when she was in the fourth grade because she had younger friends with whom she was closer, so she repeated that school year. She got to spend another year with her mother, Susan, as her primary instructor, too.
She’s 15, older than most eighth-graders, but not as old as some of her opponents would lead you to believe. The meanest thing she’s heard from a student section?
“Probably that I’m a four-year hold back or something like that,” Cassidy said. “That I lie about my age.”
Lonnie said at least one student section has cheered that she was a “special-ed student.” For the most part she’s able to shake off the noise during games and away from the court.
“She’s took a lot of flak back home. A lot of people don’t want to see kids in the mountains succeed, especially mountain people,” Lonnie said. “It’s sort of blowin’ out somone’s candle to make yours shine brighter. But we’ve prepared her for it. Once she started getting a little publicity, with publicity also comes negativity, and you’ve got to be prepared for it. She just laughs it off when people post stuff (online).”
Through January she was Shelby Valley’s third-leading scorer (behind seniors Kayla Newsom and Summer Rose) despite coming off the bench for the bulk of the season. She started her first varsity contest in the first round of the All “A” Classic last month and will presumably keep that starting spot until her final game as a senior.
The scoring’s nice and will likely increase along with her role, but it’s Cassidy’s passing ability and defensive intensity that have vaulted her to early frontrunner status for the 2022 Miss Basketball award.
“She’s got great court vision and she’s looking ahead to make sure the defense turns their head so she can make that second or third pass, or at least create that for her team,” said Lexington Christian Coach Michael Menifee, whom Shelby Valley defeated in the first round of the All “A” Classic. “She’s a great point guard. … She’s probably gonna tear this state up for the next three or four years.”
Shelby Valley led Murray by five points at halftime of the All “A” Classic finals. It eventually fell by double digits but in the first half showed promise against a team that’s played in back-to-back Sweet Sixteen tournaments. Head coach Rodney Rowe — Lonnie’s brother — plans to retire from coaching after the current season but thinks the program will be in great shape for whoever takes over. Cassidy along with fellow eighth-grader and Kentucky Premier teammate Alyssa Elswick — a post player with whom she’s developed great rapport — will make life difficult for opposing defenses over the next four years.
“I see our program continuing to evolve,” Rodney said. “The biggest thing when I got here was I said I wanted to leave the program in better shape than I got it, and I feel like I’ve done that.”
Cassidy said she can remember Shelby Valley’s boys winning the state basketball championship in 2010, but she didn’t get to watch it happen. Priority No. 1 is to have another group of Wildcats cutting down championship nets at some point over the next half-decade.
“Our whole goal, since she took a big interest in basketball, was to work with as many kids back in our area and try to get to that point,” Lonnie said. “A lot of people shoot for district titles and regional titles. At Shelby Valley, we want those every year, but we want to take that next step. We want a state title.”