The Fordham women's team is off to an 8-2 start, their best ever, largely because of Cami Cass, the Rams' point guard, who runs the offensive show with confidence and style. What makes Cass's performance more impressive is that she is just a freshman. What makes it even more impressive still is that she has been deaf since birth. Not that her success should come as any great surprise. At Noblesville (Ind.) High, Cass's teams had a 96-8 record during her four years, winning the state championship in her junior year and finishing second last season. Meanwhile, she was starring on the soccer team, making the all-state academic basketball team and being voted prom queen.
Nevertheless, Cass wasn't highly recruited as a basketball player, apparently because coaches were apprehensive about her deafness. Now the only recruiter who looks smart is Fordham coach Lou Kern, who has watched Cass team with senior Jeanine Radice—who is scoring 27.8 points a game—to provide a potent backcourt combo and to inject the Rams with new enthusiasm.
"There's nothing Cami doesn't do well," says Kern, who uses hand signs or colored towels to signal strategic changes to his 5'7" leader. "About the only time she gets hurt is when somebody runs a screen behind her and she can't hear her teammates call it out. But that doesn't happen often."
Cass, who has a 97% hearing loss in her left ear and 95% in the right, wears hearing aids in games to enable her to hear the whistle. In practice the hearing aids help her to hear Kern call her name, at which point she turns to read his lips, something Kern says she can do at a distance of 50 feet. Kern also notes that her disability even helps when she's shooting free throws in road games; she can't hear the jeers of rival fans.
"She handles things so well that you almost forget she's deaf," Kern says. "She picks things up quicker than her teammates because she knows she has to focus harder. And she's really helped me with the other kids. They know that if Cami understands, then I expect them not to miss anything."