Cayden Cazier had big plans for himself when he was a freshman point guard on the Chiawana Riverhawks varsity basketball squad.
So did Chiawana head coach Chad Herron, who put him in the starting lineup almost immediately.
“A lot of people didn’t understand why we brought him up as a freshman, but I knew what he brought to the team as far as his toughness,” Herron said. “His ballhandling and court awareness was something we valued, and he was easy to trust. He’s great in the classroom, great in the community and just an excellent teammate.”
However, his high school career didn’t turn out exactly the way Cazier had hoped. In fact, not even close.
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“I was getting real excited for my sophomore year, then that summer I dislocated my kneecap,” Cazier said, noting he had to snap the kneecap back into place after grabbing a rebound and falling awkwardly during an AAU game. “It later swelled up like a bowling ball.”
Cazier had surgery on the knee, performed by Seattle Seahawks team doctor Michael McAdam, and looked forward to a return for his junior season. But that season was derailed by two concussions and a torn labrum in his shoulder. He played a total of six games as a junior, barely enough to be noticed by opposing players and coaches, much less potential college recruiters looking for someone to run the show.
“I don’t even count it as playing, because I didn’t really get the full experience,” Cazier said. “I played two of them with a big brace, so I couldn’t even shoot the ball.”
Cazier, who had dreamed of playing Division I college basketball as early as third grade, could have lost himself in a world of self pity and frustration. Instead, he put his energy toward helping others and keeping his team on track.
It makes you feel lucky to be out there and playing. Sometimes you take things for granted when coach is making you run a bunch of lines and you’re breathing hard, thinking, ‘This sucks.’ But when you’re sitting on the sideline, you’re thinking, ‘Man, I really wish I was out there playing.’
Chiawana senior Cayden Cazier
Herron enlisted him to guide the point guards during practice and during games, something that benefited both sides.
“He’s such a student of the game, so I thought it would help the other point guards, but I thought it would also help him as a player to see it from a different side,” Herron said. “As coaches, we’re always yelling about shot selection and turnovers. He got to feel some of the frustration.”
The missed court time also gave Cazier valuable perspective when he came back for his senior year. The 5-foot-9 scrapper has made the most of this season, averaging over 29 minutes a game and leading the team in assists (45) and assist-to-turnover ratio (just under 3-to-1). He is also among Chiawana’s leaders in scoring (12.5 points a game, third on team), rebounds (5.4 a game, tied for second) and steals (11, second). He was also voted unanimously by teammates to represent them as Riverhawks captain.
But numbers are not what he plays for nowadays.
“It makes you feel lucky to be out there and playing. Sometimes you take things for granted when coach is making you run a bunch of lines and you’re breathing hard, thinking, ‘This sucks,’ ” Cazier said. “But when you’re sitting on the sideline, you’re thinking, ‘Man, I really wish I was out there playing.’
“I realized I was playing the game too stressful. I was thinking too much about college and about getting better, and I forgot the whole picture. The whole reason to be out here is to have fun. I want to feel like what I did and what I’ve worked for is paying off. I just want to have a smile on my face when I’m playing. If I end the season feeling like I played hard and had fun, I’ll know it’s a successful season.”
His father, Chiawana athletic director John Cazier, admits his pride in his son has grown even more watching his son deal with adversity with the maturity and poise that comes with great character.
“There’s a reason for this kind of stuff. We’re Christian people. We understand there are more important things than basketball,” John said. “Maybe sometimes you learn things through hardships and trials so when you’re older, you look back and help people who are going through those things. Those experiences can make us better people.”
Cayden’s plan after graduating high school (with an associate degree from Columbia Basin College) is to serve a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and then come back and play college basketball if the opportunity presents itself.
If not, he expects that will be fine, too.
“I don’t know what I’ll do. The whole goal is to keep playing now,” he said. “Ever since the injury, the dream (of playing in college) has faded a bit, but as long as I’m out playing and having fun doing what I love, that’s what matters.”