Aditi Kinkhabwala
Thursday December 6th, 2007

USC had just put a scare into the U.S. national team and it was Brynn Cameron who had scored eight consecutive points in a 10-0 run that put USC up by 11. Lisa Leslie had to summon everything to stave off a humiliation on her alma mater's floor, so when Leslie locked eyes with Cameron across the court, the all-world 6-foot-5 center went loping across the court, took the 5-10 guard by the arm and asked, "Are you still breastfeeding?"

"We're probably the only two basketball players in America in the middle of that right now," Cameron said, interrupting her story with a laugh. "I told Lisa I was trying to stop."

It's been a fabulous fall for new-mommy athletes. Six months after Leslie delivered daughter, Lauren, she led the national team to an undefeated run of college teams. In September, Lindsay Davenport won her first tournament after a three-month maternity leave. Australia's Jana Rawlinson won the world 400-meter title eight months after she had her baby, and last month, Paula Radcliffe won the New York City marathon 10 months after giving birth -- and 10 months and one day after finally hitting pause on her training.

And yet, where all those women are professionals, Cameron is not. And where they all had to get their bodies back, this 21-year old had to get her mind right, too.

"I really thought my life was over," Cameron said of the day last summer she was sure was her worst -- and now counts one of her best.

The three-point sharpshooter had had her sophomore season cut short when a first surgery to repair the labral tear in her left hip didn't work. She had a second surgery in March and broke up with her BMOC boyfriend, quarterback Matt Leinert, right after. Three months later, when her gut told her something was up, she begged her sister Emily to take a trip to the drugstore. A doctor told Cameron the blue line wasn't a mistake, that she'd conceived in early February and the fair-haired perpetual teacher's pet started wailing.

"I kept saying, 'This is horrible' and 'This is the worst thing that ever happened,'" Cameron recalled. "You're supposed to graduate from college and then get married and then start a family. I thought the baby and I were done for."

It wasn't a rare sentiment. It was only in September that the NCAA specifically set protections for pregnant athletes, and only after reports surfaced of college athletes being threatened with the loss of their scholarships and, sadder still, being pressured to have abortions.

Cameron cried when she told her parents and again when she told Leinert ("We both cried," she said) and when it came time to tell USC coach Mark Trakh, she had her dad call him. Which might have been unnecessary.

"Coach is part of the reason I wanted to come back," Cameron said. "He was so supportive and I heard when he told the team he just said, 'We're going to have a little one at practice next year.'"

With that stress lifted, Cameron moved home to her parents' in Newbury Park, Calif., signed up for home study and completely quit working out. Even now, when she thinks about the walk her doctor told Leinert to take her on when she first went into labor -- the way she was sweating and hurting after two blocks on Santa Monica Boulevard and the way Leinert asked her if she was having a heart attack -- she can't help but laugh.

"I was not one of those pregnant ladies," she said, referring back to Radcliffe and Davenport and that whole crew. "Those women must have something special."

Turns out, Cameron did, too. Her son, Cole, was born on Oct. 24, 2006. Two months later, Cameron lost the 20 pounds she put on in pregnancy and then some, and just before Christmas, she finally let her dad drag her to the gym. Sure, the first time one of her brothers saw her ungainly moves, he squealed, "You shoot like a mom!" And yes, her biceps looked, well, like they'd gone into hiding. But with Cole as her constant audience, she worked and she worked, and with her hip at full strength for the first time in two years, she actually started moving better.

Now, she's back with a vengeance. The Trojans' top three-point shooter as a freshman, Cameron was her team's leading scorer in her first two games back this year and Trakh thinks she's actually faster than before she got pregnant.

Cameron keeps an apartment in downtown Los Angeles, close to school. Of course, more often than not, she goes home to her parents' in Newbury Park. Which means waking up at 4:30 a.m. so she can lift weights at 6:30 at USC, then meeting her mom, who has brought Cole to campus for an hour of playtime, then a 9:30 class, three hours of practice and then goodbye to her mom and an afternoon of alone-time with Cole. Except that it usually doesn't end up being alone-time.

"More people want to hang out with me now than before," Cameron said with a giggle. She insists a baby puts no crimp on her lifestyle, joking first, "I'm Mormon," and then insisting she was never into keg stands or rowdy parties anyway. Heck, for as "Hollywood" as Leinert would seem to be, Cameron swears when they were together, "we stayed home. I'd do my homework and he'd play Halo. Having Cole probably makes my nights more exciting."

Cameron knows she has an incredible support system. Her mom gave her notice at the dental office she managed to play nanny. Her brother left BYU, where he was a basketball player, for USC, where he'll be a scholarship wideout next fall. Her youngest brother, a high school quarterback, complains when Cole's not at his parents' and Cameron's dad is the one still telling her to "take it day-by-day" when she gets overwhelmed.

And she does get overwhelmed, in no small part because of who Cole's dad is. The desire for gossip hasn't quelled, and the interference the USC sports information department runs only goes so far. She shrugs off her spot on "baby mama" lists and she laughs at the gold-digger labels, very frankly saying, "I'm sure I'd have said the same thing if a girl got pregnant by the golden boy." At the same time, she thinks the spotlight "has made me less judgmental" -- and hyper-wary of how judgmental people can be of Cole's daddy.

There's a reason the pair broke up and it would be disingenuous to pretend Cameron and Leinert always see eye to eye. But after a summertime story seemed to have her mouthing off on Leinert's parenting skills -- and after those quotes led to a frenzy in the blog world -- Cameron was mortified, because she says, "Matt's still Cole's dad. And I want Cole to think the world of his dad."

Right now, Cole's showing his dad's left-handedness, and his penchant for football; it's the first ball he grabs in a crib full of balls. And Cameron swears she's okay with that -- "as long as he learns a left-handed shot too," she said. There are laughs, and there's plain wonder, she says, as Cole's taught her perspective and sharpened a world she once feared upended.

"I know it happens every day, but having a baby," she said, "really is a miracle."

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