Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3)
The very first time she talked to a college coach, Gabby Casey vividly remembers pacing in her room, hands shaking, trying to hold onto the phone.
It’s a memory the Lansdale Catholic junior can laugh about now, especially as calls from college programs started coming in more and more frequently, but also one that says plenty about Casey. Sure, her play usually seems to elevate the bigger the stage but Casey isn’t one to goad the spotlight onto herself if she can avoid it.
Gabby Casey (above) became the second local product to commit to St. Joe's in the last week. (Photo: Dan Hilferty/CoBL)
Her hands were much more steady and there wasn’t nearly as much pacing last week as she committed to continue her career at Saint Joseph’s University under Hawks coach Cindy Griffin.
“It’s funny, I wanted to get to the bookstore on campus before it closed so I could get a sweatshirt; Coach Griffin had already left so I had to call her on FaceTime to tell her I was going to commit,” Casey said. “I was on campus, but it was on the phone. Luckily (assistant coaches Katie Kuester and Melissa Dunne) were still in the building so they got the whole team to come running out and they all started giving me hugs.”
Casey, a 5-foot-10 athletic wing, was a driving force as LC flipped the script on a 2-11 season in 2020-21 and went 19-8 while reaching its first PIAA title game. She averaged 22 points, nine rebounds, 3.5 assists and 3.5 steals per game for the Crusaders, who finished fourth in the PCL’s regular season standings then battled their way through a deep 4A bracket to reach the Giant Center.
It was during that run that St. Joe’s officially jumped in the mix, extending Casey an offer on March 15, just two days after she had scored her 1,000th point in a second round state playoff win. Casey was plenty familiar with the Hawks - she and Hannah Griffin, Cindy’s younger daughter and a standout at Gwynedd Mercy Academy, are AAU teammates with the Philly Belles - and was ecstatic to have an offer from a program she had long admired.
Casey also had offers from Manhattan, Delaware, Towson, Rider and Monmouth. After those first couple recruiting calls, she actually started to enjoy the process but with the transfer portal creating such an unknown, Casey felt like it was the right time to make her decision.
Another of her AAU teammates, Penn Charter’s Aleah Snead, committed to St. Joe’s on Tuesday just as Casey was preparing for her official visit on Wednesday. At that point, it was pretty much a done deal for the LC standout.
“I visited and fell in love with it, just everything about it,” Casey said. “I got a chance to scrimmage with the girls, they were super-welcoming and it seemed like a great fit. I had that feeling that everyone was telling me I would have once I knew that I loved a college.
“I knew right then and there I was going to commit.”
The Hawks, who’ve been under Cindy Griffin’s direction for the last 21 seasons, went 13-17 this past season, including 7-8 in the Atlantic 10. But a strong freshman class led by Talya Brugler (10.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg), Mackenzie Smith (9.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg), Laila Fair (8.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg) and Julia Nystrom (4.6 ppg) — who will all be juniors when Snead and Casey arrive on campus — have the future looking brighter on Hawk Hill.
When her play started drawing compliments or attention from people she didn’t know during her freshman year, Casey started to get the idea she could play at the Division I level. However, she also knew she had holes in her game and approached then-LC assistant Tina Bastardi about working with her one-on-one.
For the past three years, Bastardi has been Casey’s trainer and the two have spent untold hours - not all of them harmonious - working to chisel Casey’s raw skill into a well-rounded player. When Bastardi first saw Casey play as a 13-year-old, she saw a talented kid who relied a lot on athleticism and much of their work has focused on Casey’s shot.
It’s a testament to Casey that she turned an almost non-existent 3-point game, she shot nine percent on 22 attempts as a freshman, into a weapon now around 40 percent from deep.
“To change somebody’s shot takes years and she was able to do it in three or four months,” Bastardi said. “It’s crazy when you really think about it. It’s almost unheard of.
“A lot of it came from having somebody who really believed in her but who could also tell her how it is. It’s not always going to be great, there were times where she was mad at me or I wanted to kick her out, we go through it all the time but she still stayed for those three hours and stuck through it, whether she sucked that day or not.”
Casey (above) led Lansdale Catholic into the PIAA Class 4A state championship game last month. (Photo: Dan Hilferty/CoBL)
While she upped her numbers dramatically from freshman year to sophomore year, the Crusaders struggled on the floor. Coming back to the team this year and with some talented underclassmen around her, Casey didn’t want to do it all herself.
Her numbers ended up close to what they were as a sophomore but it was things like overall shooting percentage or number of shot attempts that changed for the better. On top of that, her work ethic started to permeate and the team’s younger players like sophomore sharpshooter Olivia Boccella or freshmen Nadia Yemola and Sanyiah Littlejohn started staying for extra work.
It wasn’t a coincidence those players had some of their best games in the playoff run and that’s the kind of role LC coach Eric Gidney is hoping Casey continues to fill.
“I would love to see her instill some of that in our younger players,” Gidney said. “It’s not easy, if it was, I’m sure somebody would have found a way to bottle it and would have made a fortune by now. Regardless of what next season looks like, one of the biggest ways she can contribute to having a lasting impact is not just hanging banners through individual or team success but helping future players understand how we do things.”
Casey is excited to play her final AAU season with the Belles and in the meantime, she and Bastardi will continue working together and LC plans to start team workouts in May. The focus for her offseason will hone in on defense, especially getting better at guarding one-on-one and continuing to fine-tune her shooting.
“I’m eager to get back with the team and get a jump-start for next year,” Casey said. “We all cherish the time together, which is big for us. We all love to be together and work together, so I’m sure everyone is ready to get back in the gym.