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Perseverance and Motivation: Why nothing can keep Calhoun off the court

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Perseverance and Motivation: Why nothing can keep Calhoun off the court

Freshman Breanna Calhoun maneuvers around a Merced College defender during the CCCAA Women's Basketball State Semifinals, held at Ventura College on Saturday, March 16, 2019.  Moorpark defeated Merced, 73-68.  Photo Credit: Jace Kessler

Freshman Breanna Calhoun maneuvers around a Merced College defender during the CCCAA Women's Basketball State Semifinals, held at Ventura College on Saturday, March 16, 2019. Moorpark defeated Merced, 73-68. Photo Credit: Jace Kessler

Freshman Breanna Calhoun maneuvers around a Merced College defender during the CCCAA Women's Basketball State Semifinals, held at Ventura College on Saturday, March 16, 2019. Moorpark defeated Merced, 73-68. Photo Credit: Jace Kessler

Freshman Breanna Calhoun maneuvers around a Merced College defender during the CCCAA Women's Basketball State Semifinals, held at Ventura College on Saturday, March 16, 2019. Moorpark defeated Merced, 73-68. Photo Credit: Jace Kessler

By Robert Gonzales

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When Breanna Calhoun tore her anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee, she thought she would never be able to play the game of basketball ever again.

“I was just crying [and] crying, it was just so emotional,” Calhoun said.

A dream she had been chasing her whole life was taken away from her. The physical pain was unbearable, the emotional pain was unimaginable.

But she battled back.

This was just another obstacle Calhoun would learn to overcome on her journey to becoming one of the game’s most feared point guards.

Calhoun returned to full strength and graduated Bishop Alemany high school as a McDonald’s All-American Nominee. She finished as the Mission League Player of the Year and a top 100 prospect by ESPN scouting. Her future in basketball shined brighter than most, but then she walked away from the sport she loved so much.

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Breanna Calhoun on her way to San Jose State University. Calhoun didn't know it at the time, but those upcoming practices would be one of her last practices for the next three years of her life. Photo credit: Breanna Calhoun

Pepperdine, Long Island University, and San Jose State were competing to sign Calhoun after high school, but she picked SJSU because she connected with their coach most. A week before she arrived, the coach who persuaded her to come had left the program.

Calhoun gave SJSU a try for a few weeks but didn’t feel herself.

“You know I was kind of homesick, just all the bad cards were dealt,” Calhoun said. “I just felt like it wasn’t for me, so I came home.”

From the summer of 2015 to the fall of 2018 Calhoun didn’t play any organized basketball.

“Everybody’s timing is different, I feel like that time definitely gave me the motivation and mentality I needed to come back and take over,” Calhoun said.

And then Calhoun did just that. She dominated the California Community College Athletic Association.

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Freshman Breanna Calhoun takes the ball to the hole against Diablo Valley College during the CCCAA state championship game, played at Ventura College on Sunday, March 17, 2019. Moorpark lost to Diablo Valley, 68-61. Photo Credit: Jace Kessler

She engraved her name in the Moorpark College record books by leading the team to their first conference championship in 28 years, provided a Moorpark best 32-win season, and their first-ever state championship appearance.

She received Southern California’s Player of the Year and Moorpark College’s Most Valuable Player and Most Inspirational Player all within the span of one year. Her fast-paced play yielded almost 20 points, 6 assists and 4 steals a game, each ranking in the top three for the state.

Although most of the year glided by seamlessly, Calhoun and the Raiders fell 8 points short of becoming Moorpark’s first-ever state champions.

“You can lose at anything at any time,” Calhoun said after the game, wiping away her tears. “So just enjoy the moment while it’s there. Just capture every moment, love everything and give it your all.”

Calhoun soaked in the negativity of that loss and flipped it into a positive to drive her to even greater heights. She was no stranger when it came to remolding heartache.

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Freshman Breanna Calhoun is overcome with emotion after Moorpark lost 68-61 to Diablo Valley College in the CCCAA state championship, played at Ventura College on Sunday, March 17, 2019. Moorpark lost to Diablo Valley, 68-61. Photo Credit: Jace Kessler

Calhoun has endured a nonexistent father at a young age, losing her beloved 14-year-old cousin to suicide, and a devastating knee ligament tear that had her questioning if she could ever play again.

With each adversity, Calhoun continues to find the strength to persevere. Back on the court, Calhoun has one dream, one goal, to play overseas. After all the adversity in her life, she’s still standing, using the loses in her life to motivate her to achieve her dreams despite the adversity.

Calhoun first started playing basketball at around three years old when her mom bought her a Toys R’ Us plastic hoop.

“My mom was like ‘do you want a doll?’” Calhoun said. “’What do you want to get from Toys R’ Us?’ First thing I thought of was [a] basketball hoop.”

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Breanna Calhoun shoots a Duke Blue Devils basketball into her personal Toys' R' Us basketball hoop, just outside her home in Granada Hills. Photo credit: Breanna Calhoun

She naturally took off from there. At school, everybody knew her for basketball. It was always basketball and nothing else. Coming home, the same passion continued as she outplayed neighborhood foes on her “home-court” plastic rim.

“It was just like a natural thing, just having a ball around and being able to actually have my own hoop,” Calhoun said. “I thought at that age was probably like the coolest thing ever.”

Then in 2008, at end of her fifth-grade season, Calhoun was awarded for her basketball prowess. In an after-school program among different schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, she received a letter that honored her as the best athlete and was invited to a dinner with the Mayor of Los Angeles.

5th grade dinner with the Mayor

On May 12, 2008, 5th-grader Breanna Calhoun from Encino Elementary, receives a basketball award from the Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for her sportsmanship in an LA Unified School District after-school program. Photo credit: Breanna Calhoun

“The fact that I was chosen was pretty cool,” Calhoun said. “These people actually recognize me for something that was God-given, this talent I have, it kind of just made me want to just keep going.”

Calhoun’s mom, Tina Marie, realized her daughter’s hobby was starting to become something much bigger. The coach of Encino Elementary told her that people were already starting to pay attention to Calhoun even though she was so young. Calhoun began to stand out.

As a child, she would only play basketball with guys. She loved the competition and the mentality the guys displayed. She learned to be tough at a young age. She had to be.

Growing up her father wasn’t always around.

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Breanna Calhoun hugging her father in an early family photo. Calhoun's dad was out of her life by age 5. She grew up leaning on her mom and the positive energy she provided. Photo credit: Breanna Calhoun

“You can’t really judge somebody off of something that they know they messed up on,” Calhoun said. “I think everybody just deserves that second chance, everything is a learning experience, and everybody grows.”

Even reflecting on missing those years with her father, Calhoun spun the negativity of that situation and turned it into a positive aspect of her own personal growth.

“He’s the one that’s supposed to, you know, make you tough and do all this, but I kind of think [that] when that’s not there and you’re kind of just pushing yourself, you kind of just build yourself up to be the solid wall,” Calhoun said. “Going through that has made me into the player and person that I am. It definitely made me tougher.”

Growing up without her father fully in the picture, she leaned on her mom and the positive energy she provided.

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Breanna Calhoun (left) and her mom, Tina Marie (right), embrace after Calhoun is awarded Saddleback tournament MVP. Led by Calhoun's 20 points, the Raiders defeated last year's state champions Mt. San Jacinto 64-50 in the tournament championship. Photo credit: Breanna Calhoun

“When I was younger, I think my biggest motivation was just my mom, cause that’s really all that was there, that’s all I had, that’s like my rock,” Calhoun said.

Marie’s positive energy was infectious on Calhoun and that energy reflected most on the basketball court. She loved to smile as she locked up opponents defensively and blew by defenders on the offensive end. The basketball court became her sanctuary where she found peace.

Despite any turmoil from the situation at home, Calhoun looked for the positive silver lining in her situation. But then tragedy would strike again.

On Jan. 20, 2012, only two months into her high school freshman season, Calhoun tore her ACL in a rivalry game against Chaminade high school.

Tearing her ACL was the biggest adversity she had ever pushed through in her basketball career.

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Breanna Calhoun rests her head on the one object that has been around her whole life, the orange gripped Spalding basketball. Photo credit: Breanna Calhoun

But even through that injury, Calhoun displayed positive aspects of her character. Despite riving in pain, she stayed until the end of the game to support her teammates from the bench.

“That’s the kind of kid she is, she was unselfish, she was about her team,” her high school coach Bryan Camacho said. “Her passion for the game and her love for her teammates is what makes Bre special.”

The Alemany high school team continued to have success without Calhoun on the court, but they came up short in the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section finals without their star point guard.

“We were beating everyone when she was on the court,” Camacho said. “Truthfully that year we would have won state, there’s no question about it.”

Calhoun would have to prove herself again next season, this time operating on her surgically repaired knee.

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Breanna Calhoun running down the court during her sophomore season, just one year after her she tore her ACL in her left knee. Calhoun worked diligently during the rehab process and recovered surprisingly fast being back on the court in only six months. Photo credit: Breanna Calhoun

While 81 percent of people are able to return to sports after ACL surgery, only 55 percent can achieve the same performance level, due in large part to inadequate rehabilitation efforts, according to a study in the Journal of Sports Medicine.

Elizabeth Quinn, an exercise physiologist and fitness consultant, said it can take nine months or more before you return to your pre-injury condition with a full range of motion and stability in the knee.

Calhoun returned back to playing condition in six months.

“She worked so hard as far as physical therapy,” Camacho said. “She was unbelievable in the weight room, academically she flourished, so in every aspect, she was so hungry to get back, there’s never been a situation in my career where I’ve seen a kid just do everything she can possible to get herself back.”

Calhoun came back and became a key contributor for her team in her sophomore season.

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Breanna Calhoun during the state championship game against Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory. The Alemany Warriors went on to win the game 46-40 for their first-ever DIII championship. Photo credit: Breanna Calhoun

“She was the last piece of our puzzle of turning around Bishop Alemany,” Camacho said.

He recalled a game where Calhoun played against now WNBA superstar Jordin Canada. He remembered the buzz of the game, the crowd going bananas to see the All-American phenom Canada.

But what he remembers most was Calhoun holding her own against Canada, picking her pocket and creating a new culture for the otherwise unsuccessful Alemany program.

Shortly after, Calhoun refaced her rivals, Chaminade High School, the very team she previously tore her ACL against. The revenge game would be even sweeter than imagined. Alemany defeated Chaminade by 13 points, this time advancing past the Southern Section final. The next game, they went on to win the school’s first-ever state championship.

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Breanna Calhoun (bottom), Hannah Johnson (right) and assistant coach Rodrigo Clemente hoisting the school's first-ever state championship trophy. The year before the team lost in the Southern Section final, but adding Calhoun to the team helped get Alemany over the hump to hoist the trophy. Photo credit: Breanna Calhoun

“A kid of her caliber, she changes your program around immediately,” Camacho said. “There’s nothing she can’t do with the basketball. Just like her favorite player, Derrick Rose, she was an impact player as soon as she got on the court.”

At the time Camacho protected the recovering point guard, reducing her minutes and bringing her in off the bench. But she stepped into her own the following year, putting to bed any questions about her performance with her new rehabilitated knee.

“I had a lot of people supporting through my injury. I’m back,” Calhoun said the summer before her junior year, at War on the Floor ‘Future Stars’ Showcase.

Despite the basketball accomplishments, Calhoun would have to push through another family affliction during her basketball stride in high school. At age 16, after her junior year, Calhoun lost her 14-year-old cousin to suicide.

“He definitely like would always talk about my game and like how I inspired him so much, I just feel like it’s definitely a motivation for me to keep pushing for him,” Calhoun said.

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Breanna Calhoun's cousin, Jordan Johnson enjoying a day in the sun. Johnson didn't get a chance to live a full life, taken early, he committed suicide at age 14. Photo credit: Breanna Calhoun

Because he never got to finish his life out, Calhoun dedicated her basketball to him and all those who have trouble expressing themselves like she was able to do on the basketball court.

She eventually graduated as MVP of her team receiving first team all-state honors two years in a row.

“Losing certain people in my life has made me stronger and kind of just motivated me to be the best person I can be on and off the court,” Calhoun said.

“Her story is a truly inspirational story,” Camacho added on. “Bre is an unbelievable kid both on and off the court as far as her heart, her determination, it’s second to none.”

After high school, Calhoun went to San Jose State but left shortly after their summer program began.

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Breanna Calhoun signs her letter of intent to San Jose State University. She received a 2015 McDonald's All American Nominee before heading to SJSU for the 2015-16 season. But she left a few weeks into the program after her recruiting coach had departed a week before she arrived. Photo credit: Breanna Calhoun

“I think that it was too fast,” Marie added. “It was her first time leaving home [and] she left straight out of high school like she was only home for a week before she was sent off.”

When Calhoun returned home, she spent some time trying to find herself and answers on what she would do next. She learned to be a barber and cut hair for a while, but the game continued to call out for her.

She couldn’t ignore the itch of returning to organized ball, so she reached out to coaches and found Kenny Plummer, head coach of the Moorpark College women’s team.

“Fortunately for me, Bre is an exceptional talent, she’s like having another coach on the floor,” Plummer said. “She inspired the team with her energy and great character, she cheers just as hard for her teammates as she would when hitting a big shot.”

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Head Coach Kenny Plummer discusses strategy with his team during a timeout with less than a minute left in the CCCAA Women's Basketball State Semifinals, held at Ventura College on Saturday, March 16, 2019. Moorpark defeated Merced College, 73-68. Photo Credit: Jace Kessler

The Raiders achieved their most accomplished basketball season in school history under Calhoun’s guidance. Calhoun hopes to bring her success to another division one basketball program and eventually become a professional basketball player overseas.

Calhoun’s life hasn’t always been easy, but she’s learned to grow through adversity. Calhoun has become a determined unrelenting basketball player who has the ability to overcome even the toughest of circumstances. Perseverance through adversity has led to motivation for Breanna Calhoun and her future in the game of basketball.

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About the Writer
Robert Gonzales, Senior reporter
Robert Gonzales is a senior sports reporter. He received his bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, but was mesmerized investigating the journeys behind the athletes he was studying. This led him to pursue an associate's degree in journalism from Moorpark College. While he loves all sports, his favorite two pastimes are football and basketball. One day he hopes to debate sports topics on national television just like the shows that inspired him to pursue a career in sports journalism.

@ReportsRobert
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