The story of Christine Cruz is a story about Broad Street and basketball.
Raised in South Philadelphia, the shy, quiet Cruz, a redshirt freshman on Temple’s women’s basketball team, has always played a lot of basketball.
From the playgrounds to the hardcourt at Temple, Cruz has seen it all.
Her story begins just south of Main Campus at William Penn High School. Cruz made the subway trip every day to get away from South Philly. If she got away from all of her friends she would do better in school and basketball, Cruz figured.
But it was the opposite.
Cruz ran into more trouble, went to fewer classes, and ran less ball at William Penn. She decided to come back down Broad Street to Southern.
“At first when I went there I really didn’t like it because I didn’t want to get transferred,” Cruz said. “When you don’t like something it is worse because you’re not looking forward to it. I came around.”
When she came around, she led Southern on three consecutive playoff trips, including a Public League Championship in her senior season.
Cruz broke records in the championship game with 44 points and 28 rebounds. She was named the MVP of the game, a Street and Smith All-American, as well as the top recruit in Philadelphia and 27th in the nation.
Cruz didn’t confine her skills to Southern’s gymnasium, however. Any chance she had she’d be at the playground playing basketball. Most of the time it was 50 to 60 guys and her.
“You know how boys are,” Cruz said. “If you’re a girl out there playing, the boys are kinda scared because there’s a lot of other boys out there. If you do something to them they kinda feel embarrassed or mad because the whole crowd’s going ‘oooh, oooh.’
“The first thing on their mind is ‘I’ll never let a girl beat me’.”
Give Cruz a basketball and she’ll beat you, like she did with the hordes of guys that thought they’d have a chance. For eight years Cruz ruled the playgrounds of South Philly before coming north to Temple.
But while she was given the opportunity to play on the next level her grades wouldn’t cooperate- Cruz would have to miss an entire season of doing what she loved to do.
“It was rough ’cause when you play sports that’s a part of your life,” Cruz said. “Most people can’t make it without that. When you’re not playing sports it brings you down.”
Cruz watched last season from the sidelines, shooting hoops after home games on the floor that was supposed to be hers. But the ball didn’t bounce that way.
“She’s one of the very best from Philly to play in the Public League,” said Temple coach Dawn Staley. Staley, the best female player to ever come out of Philadelphia, held the scoring record that Cruz broke in the Championship game. “Those are old newspaper clippings. Chrissy has to come out and establish herself on this level.”
Cruz is currently fifth on the team in scoring with 130 total points, far below what she had planned for.
“Its hard because I’m not used to playing as hard as I’m playing right now,” Cruz said. “In high school I dominated everywhere I played. I’ve never been through this before.”
Before the season started, Cruz was hit with an even bigger setback; the biggest setback of her playing career and her life of Broad Street and basketball.
After many years of being sick, Cruz’ mother Brenda Bradshaw passed away. It’s been something Cruz has had to come to terms with every day on and off the court.
“I try not to think about it,” Cruz said. “People don’t know how hard it really was just by me not showing. I don’t ever show.”
With her shy, soft-spoken nature, people don’t know how hard it’s been for Cruz to deal with the passing of her mother. Her teammates, though, are there for her whenever she needs them.
“At this stage in her life, we’re an extension of her family,” Staley said. “She can lean on us. She spends most of her time with us. Hopefully, she feels we’re being very supportive in her current situation although we don’t know what it feels like to lose your mother.”
Just before Cruz’ championship win in her senior season, her mom was released from the hospital. It was the first game that Bradshaw would ever see her daughter play, and the last.
“I know she’s probably proud of me but my mom really wasn’t a sports person,” Cruz said. “She got out of the hospital and she felt happy. She always cherished my trophies.”
As those trophies pile up in college her coaches and teammates will be there for Cruz.
“Basketball could be an escape for her,” Staley said. “A lot of people try to keep everything as routine as possible with basketball. Hopefully it’s an opportunity for her to let everything else escape and concentrate on just basketball.”
Back up Broad Street at Temple, Cruz is trying to do just that. One person who knows how to help is Staley.
“I think she can help me get through it, but she can’t help me if I don’t want to help myself,” Cruz said. “I think she’s going to help me to get through it, it’s just a matter of how much I want it.
“She thinks and knows I can be a great player but I have to know that myself.”
As Cruz figures it out, she’ll be able to start writing the next chapter of her life of Broad Street and basketball.