Wednesday, July 24, 2024

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Capital Courts Academy final stop for Cyanne John on road to Fairfield University

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By Martin Cleary

When Rolanda Coe was a teenager, she was driven by sports, whether it was basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer or volleyball.

And you can’t forget football, when she became the first girl to play in the Ottawa high school league in 1982 and scored a touchdown in one game for the Confederation High School Cardinals’ junior squad.

“She was a big sports fanatic and she wanted me to follow the same pathway,” said Cyanne John about her mother in a recent phone interview.

There was an article written in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper detailing Coe’s football debut with the Cardinals almost 42 years ago and John has a framed copy hanging on a wall as a motivational tool.

John, 19, happily and successfully followed the lead of her mother, who has been a court officer with the Toronto Police Services Board for more than 27 years.

The Bolton, ON., resident also started as a multi-sport athlete in hockey, soccer, basketball and gymnastics. But she eventually reduced it to one sport, which made sense but her decision to focus on basketball had its troubling times.

In the end, however, her determination and dedication to improve as a player, overcome injuries, deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, and polish her skills for one extra high school year at the Cairine Wilson Secondary School-based Capital Courts Academy allowed her to earn a full athletic scholarship to highly-ranked Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut.


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John graduated from Bill Crothers Secondary School in Markham, ON., in 2023 with a 97-per-cent academic average, having helped her school to a 13-3 record and a berth in the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association quarterfinals. She also was named the league’s Pool B defensive player of the year as well as a first-team all-star.

But the six-foot power forward felt she needed to polish her game one more year at the high school level and applied to the Capital Courts Academy. Head coach Fabienne Blizzard and player development coach Merrick Palmer, the academy’s co-founders, encouraged John to join Capitals Courts after she graduated from Grade 8, but she didn’t feel ready to head to Ottawa until last September.

In the weeks after her elementary school graduation, John played a solid role on the Brampton Warriors U14 team, which was 42-0 and qualified to represent Canada at the Junior NBA championship in Orlando, Florida, in 2019. Canada won eight games and went undefeated until meeting the United States in the one-sided championship game. John was one of seven winners of the Determination Award.

“Yeah, it would have been great to play with Merissah Russell and great to be coached by Fabienne and Merrick, but at the time it would have been too hard to move out,” John explained. “But when I graduated Bill Crothers, I felt my business was done here.”

John’s basketball career at Crothers was far from typical, but it finished strong with the guidance and support of head coach Jodi Gram.

Her first three years at Crothers were a write-off. In Grade 9, she tore the anterior cruciate ligament as well as the meniscus in her right knee early in her 2019-20 season and missed most of the season. The COVID-19 pandemic cancelled her Grade 10 season in 2020-21.

While playing summer basketball in the Kia Nurse EYBL Elite League, she damaged the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee in the first game, which prevented her from playing fall basketball in Grade 11 for Crothers.

“That was really, really hard,” John said about having to miss a crucial year in her basketball development and the start of her university recruitment. “When you’re injured, the universities disappeared. I had another whole year to sit out.

“But I was able to be a leader on the bench. It was a little hard. I couldn’t play sports so I would go to school for school. My grades dipped a bit and that set back my recruitment.”

But during that time, John and her mother took a personal break and travelled to North Preston, N.S. Coe hadn’t seen her mother in five years and John needed to see family.

The trip to Nova Scotia proved invaluable for John as she returned to Crothers in an upbeat mood.

“My coach is an amazing woman. She said: ‘I’ll support you,’” an appreciative John explained.

“When I came back, my offensive game was good, but not how it was when I was in Grade 9. I focused all my energy on defence.”

Crothers only lost two games in the 2022-23 regular season, including the quarterfinal to powerhouse Crestwood Prep.

But last summer, John wanted one more year of high school basketball and the Capital Courts Academy provided that opportunity. Not only did John strengthen her preparation for university, but also she helped Capital Courts finish second in the OSBA regular season at 12-2 and win the silver medal in the championship game against Crestwood.

“I wanted to play one more year to focus on only development,” said John, who was named to play in the 2023 and 2024 All Canadian Basketball Game at Orangeville Prep and the University of Toronto respectively. “I reached out to coaches Fab and Merrick and asked if they were OK with me coming.

“Coach Fab made sure I was ready basketball-wise to be prepared for university. I needed to fix my footwork and shooting.”

After graduating from Crothers, John had offers from two American universities. But she declined because the coaches wanted her to join their programs immediately and she didn’t feel comfortable with the hurried pace.

John, however, connected with Fairfield University after her 2023 AAU summer basketball season with the Kia Nurse Elite program. She visited the university early last August and committed to studying at Fairfield and playing for the Stags women’s team on Aug. 14.

“When I arrived at the airport, two assistant coaches picked me up,” she said. “They were so welcoming. I felt I was home already. All the coaches are great and the campus is beautiful and so well maintained. All the workers on campus say hi and the campus security wave. That tied it all together for me.”

John has been on campus since May 19 and started her freshman classes the next day, leading to a potential bachelor’s degree in film, television and media arts. In her first of four credits this summer, she scored a 4.0 grade-point average out of 4.0 in a criminal justice system psychology course.

The Fairfield women’s basketball team has been training for several weeks and the Stags hope to build on the program’s most successful season in 2023-24. Fairfield went 31-2 last season, won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference at 23-0, earned its first top-25 national ranking and lost in the first round of the NCAA women’s tournament to Indiana University.

Head coach Carly Thibault-DuDonis earned several coach-of-the-year honours as the Stags posted a 29-game winning streak and a team record 31 wins overall.

“At first, it was a lot to get used to the school work. High school doesn’t prepare you for the amount of work,” said John, who appeared in a motivational Gatorade TV commercial in 2019 along with Denver Nuggets’ star Jamal Murray of Kitchener.

Basketball is much the same, at least based on her first day on the court.

“It’s definitely different than high school. We have so many coaches on deck. You’re in drills that challenge you, there’s intensity, the pressure’s up and you go hard for a full hour,” she explained.

And that was her Day 1 impression with fitness testing on Day 2 and more heavy practices on the horizon.

Read More of our 2024 High School Best Series, presented by Louis-Riel Sports-Études, as we tip our caps to top local student-athletes at: OttawaSportsPages.ca/Ottawa-High-School-Best-2024

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