Make no mistake about it - Daniella Ciccarone’s got game.
Quakertown coach Greg Swavely figured that out the moment she set foot on the court as a ninth grader, and without blinking an eye, he inserted Ciccarone into the varsity lineup as his starting point guard.
“I’ve always said that the toughest position on the court is the point guard, but she made an immediate impact on our program,” Swavely said. “We would get pressed all the time before she arrived on the scene, and once she came on the scene, we started to not see presses too often.
“She handled all kinds of pressure. As a freshman, she did a great job for us.”
In the years since then, Ciccarone has only gotten better, and on Saturday night, the senior guard put her name in the school’s record books when – on a drive to the hole early in the third quarter of the Panthers’ game against Conestoga – she reached the elusive 1,000-point plateau.
Ciccarone scored 27 points in the Panthers’ 50-40 win over Upper Merion in the opening round game of the Upper Merion Tip-Off Tournament on Friday and needed just eight in Saturday night’s title game against Conestoga.
“I wasn’t keeping track, but when I was driving to the basket, I heard my girls on the sidelines say, ‘This is it. This is it,’” recalled Ciccarone, who scored 12 points in a 48-35 Panther loss. “When I made it, people were going crazy, and I was like, ‘That must have been the shot.’
“It’s so exciting. It’s such a milestone, and I’m really, really happy that I got it.”
Ciccarone is only the fifth girls’ basketball player to reach that milestone at Quakertown. She joins Colleen Gavin (2009), Jen Carlson (1989), Anita Serge (1980) and Miram Afflerbach (1930).
Only 140 points separates Ciccarone from Afflerbach’s record of 1,144 career points – a record that has stood almost 80 years.
“It’s going to be something when that record falls,” Swavely said. “There haven’t been a lot of 1,000-point scorers through the years at Quakertown, so this is big news for us. It’s definitely a career milestone that you can be proud of.”
Ciccarone acknowledged that her most recent accomplishment was the result of years of hard work.
“I feel that basketball players who score 1,000 points – they really deserve it,” she said. “Colleen (Gavin) got 1,008 last year, and that girl deserved to get it. She worked so hard, I worked so hard.
“Anyone that has that milestone is an inspiration. I don’t mean to sound full of myself, but I think getting my 1,000th point will make younger girls say, ‘I want to do something like that.’ Every day at practice, I look at the highest record on the banner and say, ‘I’m going to break it.’”
Ciccarone’s success shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with her story.
After all, the Quakertown senior grew up in a place where basketball reigns supreme. A place steeped in basketball tradition called Brooklyn, N.Y.
“In Brooklyn, basketball is prime time,” the Quakertown senior said. “Everything is about the orange ball. Quakertown is more of a football, soccer, wrestling town, but in Brooklyn, you’d go to a football game, and there was one person there because no one really cares.
“You go to a basketball game there, and it’s packed. You cannot get in. Around here, it’s like, ‘Girls’ basketball – oh whatever.’ It’s so frustrating because I was so used to the culture of basketball being everywhere.”
While they took Ciccarone out of Brooklyn, they could not take away her immense passion for her sport. A passion she didn’t feel when she was introduced to basketball at the age of five by her father, Frank Ciccarone.
“I was actually forced to play – I didn’t want to play at all,” she said. “My dad had to bribe me with Beanie Babies.”
Ciccarone played her first competitive basketball at the church near her home in Brooklyn through a program called BCBA, which is comparable to CYO.
“Then my dad would take me to Coney Island where he grew up in the ‘hood, and I would play with all the ghetto boys,” she recalled. “I was scared poopless, but playing the boys got me to be a better, tougher player. I got my butt handed to me a couple of times, which was a little embarrassing, but hey – it happens.”
It was in Coney Island that Ciccarone participated in NBA star Stephon Marbury’s tournament at his former high school.
“I’ve learned from the best coaches there,” she said. “I was the only white girl on the team, and it was a great learning experience.
“My dad, who grew up there, knew everybody, so I felt comfortable. At the time, I still hadn’t really established myself as a basketball player, so I knew playing with the boys would really get me out there. Even though I was so young – it would still make a difference.”
When Ciccarone wasn’t shooting hoops in her school’s gymnasium, she was working on her game at home.
“I would actually spend most of my time in my 2x4 concrete backyard with my basketball,” she said. “Every day my dad and I would be shooting until I cried.
“I dribbled up and down and around the block. I would keep on doing it until my fingers started bleeding, basically.”
By this time, Ciccarone no longer needed her father’s bribes.
“Once I got the gist of it, once I got the feeling, I started loving it,” she said. “I was like, ‘This is what I’m supposed to do.’
“I would go to my AAU tournaments and buy the tournament shirts that had my name printed on the back. I think that’s when I decided this is something I have to do for the rest of my life because it’s so awesome.”
During the summer before eighth grade, Ciccarone’s family moved to Quakertown.
“It was really, really different,” she said. “When we were driving down here, I made my dad stop and pull over because I saw a cow.
“I couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘Dad, a cow – these people have cows as pets.’ I’d seen cows at a petting zoo, but these people have them as pets. I think a cat is exotic enough for me.”
So began the next chapter in Ciccarone’s life.
Ciccarone is playing her final season at Quakertown High School. It’s not exactly where she imagined she’d be playing as a youngster growing up in Brooklyn.
“I probably would have gone to Bishop Kearney if we hadn’t moved,” she said of the Catholic all-girls’ school. “It was a couple of blocks down from where I lived, and basically, in third grade, I had a full ride to go there.”
A veteran of the AAU circuit – she most recently played for the Rebels, Ciccarone can score from just about anywhere on the court.
“She’s very talented offensively,” Swavely said. “She can shoot the three, she can drive to the basket. She can do it all, but the amazing thing about her is for as good as she is – she’s just so unselfish.
“She’s looking to hit somebody on the break and get an assist before she’s looking to score. It’s just amazing.
“Over the years that I’ve coached, usually someone with that kind of talent is looking for her shot first, but she is always looking for the open girl. Sometimes her passes take our girls by surprise because she’s hitting them when they’re not expecting it – ‘Wow, where did that pass come from?’ That’s what has amazed me the most about her.”
Ciccarone came by her love of basketball naturally. Sports, it seems, run in the family. Her father played basketball at Lincoln High School but was an even more prolific softball player. Her mother, Claire Ciccarone, was an elite swimmer.
“My mom is my biggest fan,” Ciccarone said. “She’s the most amazing person ever. She was almost an Olympic swimmer – she missed it by .0001 or something ridiculous like that.
“Athleticism runs in the family, so my dad was – ‘First child, let’s throw a basketball on her.’ I guess it worked.”
Ciccarone’s siblings also are at home on the hardwood – Michael, a sophomore, and seventh grade twins Phillip and Lillian (named Phil and Lil by Daniella when they were born since she had her mother’s blessing to name them) all play basketball.
Ciccarone has her sights set on playing basketball at the collegiate level, and she plans to major in secondary education/history.
“That is a big part of where I want to go,” she said of her major. “I want to go somewhere where I will be allowed to study abroad because I feel as a history major, studying abroad would really give me a one-up, and I just love culture.
“That’s what was so great about Brooklyn – you see a new face every day, you see a new ethnicity every day, and I think that’s wonderful.”
For now, Ciccarone is putting on hold the not-so-little matter of where she will be attending college.
“I feel like I shouldn’t have to rush, and I really want to focus this year on my Quakertown team because I feel we can really go far,” she said. “My head is all in it, and all of our heads are all in it.”
Swavely acknowledged that Ciccarone has developed into an outstanding leader.
“As a freshman, she just went out there and played on her own ability and didn’t really view herself as a leader of the team,” he said. “Over the last couple of years, she’s really learned how to play the point guard position and realizes that she’s a floor general out there.
“This is her team, and she has to sometimes carry the team on her back if that’s what it takes, and she does it very well.”
Ask Ciccarone her goals for her final high school season, and she has an immediate answer.
“What I would like to do this year – I want to help the younger girls as much as possible, so when I leave the program – they’re trying to develop point guards because we really don’t have a lot,” she said. “I really want to influence the younger girls.”
Ensuring that Ciccarone’s legacy will live on long after her playing days at Quakertown are over.