Brink, Mountainside girls hoops a match made in basketball heaven
The game was long gone, essentially over once the first quarter buzzer sounded.
Summit was Mountainside's easily navigable non-league speed bump as Cameron Brink and her cavalcade of rising sophomore stars cruised to a 30-point fourth quarter lead.
Yet, wanting his team to be in game condition and hoping to experiment a bit with a roster full of flexible capability, head coach Glen Lee left Brink in and stationed the 6-foot-4 phenom at the front of Mountainside's full-court press.
By this point in the contest, Halle Hageman, Lindsey Wilson and Carly Stone were all sidelined for the evening, done for the game with the blowout decided.
But as Brink lowered into her defensive crouch and started mirroring the Summit inbounder with keen aggressivness, the entire Maverick bench was on its feet, cheering on their all-world teammate like it was the end all, be all, do-or-die possession of the Class 6A state championship game. They screamed and yelled and cheered at the top of their lungs as if Brink was some little-used benchwarmer, not the third-ranked senior in the entire country according to ESPNW. Brink forced a turnover and finished at the rim. Then on the next play, she tipped the next inbound pass to herself and dished to a slashing Taylor Smith for two, the Maverick bench erupting in praise and passion, leading by more than 30 but still completely invested in their talented forward who's accomplished everything under the sun as a high school player.
The Stanford commit couldn't help but crack a smile as Lee called timeout and Mountainside junior Ana Ika leaped off the bench and nearly tackled her tall teammate to the ground. Her Maverick comrades were genuinely enthused to see their captain and leader succeed. No pettiness. No envy. No side-eyed glances at the effort and endeavor. No apathy toward winning. This was a breath of fresh air, a reprieve from Brink's past scholastic experience. It was a cool, insightful snapshot into a team that's vaulted from newbie to state contender with one unforgettable transfer. Mountainside won 66-26 over Summit, but the final score was a footnote. Brink has found happiness again, on the court, in the hallways at school, in the classroom. She bettered her situation by transferring across town and took ownership of her senior season. This Maverick team couldn't be more delighted to have her.
"I've definitely found the joy in playing again, especially in high school," Brink said with a smile. "It's my senior year. It should be fun. I'm glad to end it on a high note."
This is a youthful, vibrant group that's relatively new to team success and the pressures of contending for a state title. Hageman, Wilson, Smith and Stone are all sophomore starters with Brink the lone senior. But that innocence lends itself to immunity when it comes to lofty expectations. Mountainside is enjoying the ride. They've played a national schedule in the early going with a trip to Arizona for the Nike Tournament of Champions with stiff tests against Beaverton, La Salle and Canby cooked in. Through the first month of the 6A coaches' poll Mountainside hasn't fallen out of the top-four. The Mavericks are new to this sort of attention. It's fresh in a good way. They're having fun every single day, dancing with each other between drills in practice, or spraying each other with water, just being silly and not taking the game as seriously as some do. When it's time focus, Mountainside locks in. But they never lose sight of the fun, which basketball at its core, is all about.
"We're all goofballs," Brink said with a laugh. "It's a young team and we have trouble focusing sometimes, but we otherwise have fun all the time and find the joy in everything, which is really good. Basketball is a game and you have to have fun with the game. Everyone wants everyone else to succeed on this team. Everyone gets hyped up for each other, no matter what role you have on the team."
Lee and the Maverick program have empowered positivity to a player who never lost her competitive fire but simply needed a change of scenery. Brink transferred to Mountainside just before the school year began and hasn't looked back since. Mountainside didn't have to move heaven and earth to get Brink across town. They simply opened their doors and embraced Brink with open arms.
"I feel like I fit in instantly," Brink said. "Everyone was so welcoming. I'm extremely happy to end my senior year like this. It's nice to know I was accepted so quickly into a community. I was nervous at first, but I'm so happy with where I am. There's a really good atmosphere at the school. It's not really cliquey. Everyone welcomes each other."
Brink is the star with the eye-popping resume, two state championships, three state title appearances, player of the year honors and gold medals. She's the centerpiece, the queen on the chessboard who Lee is giving more and more creative control to. Brink is not confined to the post. She's earned the emerald green light when it comes to shooting from distance, a smooth skill that's rapidly developing into a strength. At times, Lee instructs Brink to bring the ball up the floor as a point guard and initiate the offense with her underrated passing and court vision. Defensively, Brink isn't moored to the center of the key. She's allowed to get out and guard wings, point guards, switch on pick and rolls, rotate and move all over the court. It's fascinating to watch a player's game evolve knowing she's nowhere near her ceiling. But more than growing as a player, Brink said she's learning a lot about leadership: how to coach and instruct in crunch time but not come down too hard on a teammate, how to guide and enable yet ensure everybody on the court is locked in. Yet, Brink isn't the only voice on the floor or in the locker room. Wilson and Hageman aren't afraid to chime in and lend their expertise or call out their star if she needs it. They can hold each other accountable in a respectful, non-grudgingly way because they all want the best.
"This team has so much potential," Brink said. "I'm just trying to make my mark and teach them everything I know. I try to be a good leader, be more understanding, more empathetic for sure, more patient. It's a year of growth for everyone. Everyone gives each other advice. (Hageman and Wilson) give me advice all of the time. It's a really good balance. Everyone respects each other, so it's a really good team dynamic."
Brink's captivating game grabs the headlines, but she's not alone on an island. Hagemann is a blur in the open floor, a willing passer who pushes the pace. Smith and Stone are fearless deadeye shooters who let it go from anywhere on the floor. Wilson is an All-Metro forward with a great post game rooted in fundamentals and sound footwork. These girls know where their bread is buttered with Brink, who rightfully gets her touches and shot attempts. But none of them have tunnel vision when it comes to offense. Each sophomore starter is confident in their own skill sets and can go off for double figures on any given night. They're not on the floor strictly to feed the ball into the post, stand around and watch. These surefooted underclassmen with offensive latitude who are entrusted to help Mountainside morph into a Metro and possible 6A state title contender. They're good enough to do it, especially with Brink and her vast experience showing them the way.
"We want to win Metro and go on from there," Brink said. "We're in the best league in the state and that's what we want, to play great teams. We want to make as much progress as we can. We try to take baby steps and not push anything quickly: do what we're good at first, practice what we need to work on. But we've definitely made a lot of progress already, so that's promising and exciting."
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