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Cameron Brink talks Stanford basketball, Olympic 3x3 dreams, and mental health

NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament - Final Four - Portraits

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 30: Cameron Brink #22 of the Stanford Cardinal poses during media day at 2022 NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four at the Minneapolis Convention Center on March 30, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Stanford senior Cameron Brink has led the Cardinals to a prominent season. The standout forward with a Curry connection, has carved out a name for herself in the basketball world on a national and global level.

Before being crowned 2024 Pac-12 Player and Defensive Player of the Year, the Beaverton, Oregon native made her 3x3 basketball debut last summer when she helped Team USA take home the 2023 World Cup title, earning MVP honors in the tournament.

In a conversation with NBC Sports last summer, Brink, whose parents are former college basketball stars at Virginia Tech, discussed her journey to the sport and how their influence has shaped her as a person and player. The All-American also opened up about the lessons she learned at Stanford, her mental health, her Olympic dreams, and how embracing her femininity has empowered her on and off the court.

RELATED: U.S. qualifies for Olympic 3x3 basketball tournaments

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You come from a basketball family but I read that you actually hated playing at first. What did you hate about it and what was it that made you fall in love with the sport for yourself?

Cameron Brink: I started pretty late comparatively to other people, I guess, but I don’t know I was just more into art. I was very girly. I still am very girly. I felt like I wanted to be the black sheep of the family because my mom and dad played [basketball]. My godparents played. Everybody that was close to me was involved in it so I was like, I want to be different.

Of course, I eventually had to fall in love with it—I guess it’s in my genetics. I remember going to my godfather’s camp over the summer. I was probably 8 or 9. [My parents] would force me to go to this camp for like half a day and would bribe me to go with a trip to the store Justice and I hated it. I only played against guys. But then once we actually moved back to the States after living overseas, I started playing with a good coach and the rest is history.

When did becoming a professional athlete become a dream for you?

Brink: When I first started playing it was just for fun. I remember going to a youth camp for Stanford one summer. I was going into eighth grade. I ended up playing well and one of their assistant coaches ended up offering me a scholarship. After that, I [realized] I can pursue this if I work hard.

Women’s basketball has definitely evolved over the years. Were there any athletes that you looked up to growing up?

Brink: Yeah, definitely! I loved Elena Della Donne and Breanna Stewart. Players that are kind of built like me—longer, lankier, but still versatile. Obviously, my mom. I definitely watched a lot of her film, which is cliché, but she definitely was a really, really great basketball player. She’s been a huge source of inspiration. I also watched Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, all the greats.

This summer you competed in the 3x3 World Cup which was your first tournament. What draws you to the sport and why is it so exciting?

Brink: As a post player, I think it gives me opportunity to grow my game. I have to be able to shoot, I have to handle the ball when I clear it out past the three-point line. I have to defend all positions and be able to guard a ball screen—not just guarding the post defender but guarding the guard.

[3x3 basketball] is a really good opportunity for me to grow as an all-around player and took me outside of my comfort zone.

The women’s team has a mix of veterans and rookies, what have you learned so far from your teammates?

Brink: That honestly 3x3 is just a completely different beast than 5-on-5. I think me just being open to my coaches and teammates advice has been huge for me. You really have to be able to adapt in 3x3. You don’t have time to complain about a call, you just have to be really resilient.

One of my coaches [Tammi Reiss] said you have to have the memory of a goldfish. You can’t dwell on your mistakes. It’s just a fun and volatile game. There are so many things you can’t control so you have to be mentally tough and keep playing through it. I’ve grown so much since training for it.

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3x3 will be an Olympic sport for the second time ever, next summer at the Paris 2024 Games. What would having the opportunity to represent the U.S. at an Olympics mean to you?

Brink: Gosh, it’s been a dream of mine ever since I started really playing basketball. To be able to represent your country on that big of a stage is just such an honor. I think it’s reasonable for me to think that I could do that. So if I go to enough tournaments, get enough points, and continue to be invested in the sport then I think it’s possibility. It’s kind of crazy to wrap my mind around but I think I can shoot for it and I can make it happen if I work hard enough.

Did you watch the Olympics growing up? Do you have a favorite memory?

Brink: I lived in the Netherlands when I was younger from third through fifth grade. One day, we were on a trip to like Legoland in Denmark and I remember staying up way past my bedtime and watching the Opening Ceremony. I forget which Olympics it was but I just remember laying in my silly bunk bed in Legoland thinking about how cool it was to unite all of the countries.

What would you say your role is on this U.S. team?

Brink: I would say my role is to be a big presence defensively and make people feel uncomfortable on offense. I’m 6'4, I can block shots and if I don’t block the shot I’ll alter it. I’m definitely still learning a lot but I think just using my length and quickness to my advantage.

Earlier on you mentioned watching your mom’s film and learning from that. What was it like growing up in a home surrounded by people that love basketball so much?

Brink: My mom coached me for about four or five years. She coached me a little bit in middle school and then throughout high school. Sometimes it’s hard to hear advice from your mom, because it’s your mom. But the older I got, and especially now, knowing that her and my dad played at the highest level, I’m really taking their advice and know that I can really lean on it because they know what they’re talking about. Now I can really appreciate what they’re saying.

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I read the touching family tribute you posted on Instagram on Mother’s Day. How are you like your mom and what’s the biggest lesson that she’s taught you?

Brink: Everyone that’s met my mom always tell me how similar we are and how we’re a spitting image of each other. It’s really humbling to hear because she’s one of my biggest role models. I want to emulate how she is honestly in everything I do. She’s passionate, she’s fiery, but she’s also extremely generous, loving and kind, but also really goofy and isn’t afraid to make a fool of herself. I try to be like that. I would say the biggest difference between us is that I have a little bit more of a chip on my shoulder. I always want to be more like her. I want to extend myself more and reach out to people just like she does. I want to be more outgoing like she is. It sounds cliché but I want to be exactly like my mom.

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You said you have a chip on your shoulder. Why do you think that is?

Brink: When it comes to basketball I have a chip on my shoulder and sometimes that will get me into foul trouble in 5-on-5. Being emotional in that sense is an advantage and a disadvantage... I definitely would say maybe that’s why I’ve gotten to where I am today.

I always have a chip on my shoulder. I’m very competitive. My coaches tell me all the time “You have to use your emotion to benefit you and not let it burn out or spread like wildfire. Control the flame.” That’s an area where I want to be more like my mom and really take a deep breath and re-center.

How would you say you are like your dad?

Brink: I play more like my dad. He was a really amazing college player at Virginia Tech—where my mom also played. He’s really long, lanky, and lean. He was definitely more of a post player. We run the same. Our hands are the same. I think I’m more physically built like my dad but I guess I act more like my mom. My dad was also a really great rim protector and that’s a big part of my game too.

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You’ve been very vocal about mental health. I really like that you compared it to hygiene—like brushing your teeth. What have you learned from your struggles and what advice can you share with others?

Brink: Something I’ve learned especially this past year is that it can hit you at any moment. Last November, right when NCAA basketball season started I hit a wall mentally and it didn’t really make any sense. Everyone’s struggle is so individual with mental health but I think sometimes you just have to give yourself grace for not knowing exactly why you feel a certain way. Give yourself patience.

It’s funny because I’ll tell my friends all the time, “You’re doing great, give yourself some grace, be patient with yourself,” but when I look inwardly I’m not taking any of my own advice. Listen to [the advice] you would give the people you love most.

It’s definitely a weird battle and at some point everyone’s going to go through some sort of mental struggle. It hit me at a random point but I had a great support system. I think that’s really important. It’s also important to not be afraid to be vulnerable.

Ever since I started being patient with myself things have gotten so much better.

Thank you for sharing that with me. I’ve noticed that you have this sense of self worth and identity that you carry on and off the court. It’s not just limited to basketball. I love that you embrace it in everything whether it’s fashion, beauty, or art like you mentioned earlier. Where does that confidence come from?

Brink: A big part of that is from my mom. Growing up I always thought of myself as the “lanky, awkward, tall kid,” but she’s always taught me to embrace my height, to stand up straight and embrace my feminine side. She showed me that it’s super fun to do your makeup and your hair.

A big source of my confidence comes from my feminine side. Doing my makeup is my time to just zone out and feel good about myself and I think that bleeds into other aspects of my life. It may sound shallow [to others] but if you look good, you feel good. If I feel beautiful, then I just have a better day. It’s not about [obsessing] over what you look like but it’s just a part of who I am.

It’s okay to be girly but go out and scream [as loud as you can] on the court. I embrace my feminine side and I’m really thankful that my mom instilled that in me. That and also finding pants that are long enough too. I think that’s a huge thing. It’s important to wear clothes that you feel good in.

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I want to talk Stanford basketball. What are you looking forward to most this season?

Brink: I’m just excited to step into senior leadership and for our freshmen to come in and to just take them under my wing. We had a lot of changes last year, transfers. We have a new [assistant] coach. I’m super excited about Tempie [Brown]. We have a lot of change but I’m excited to embrace that, get closer to the people on the team, and hopefully make a good run.

You mentioned stepping into senior leadership. How exactly has your role on the team evolved?

Brink: It’s custom that seniors are captains on our team so knowing that I’m going to be a team captain, I think just being more vocal. I’ve always been huge on leading by example and by effort and being positive.

What have you learned so far from your time at Stanford as a person as an athlete?

Brink: My biggest takeaway is the importance of relationships. I think my freshman year was really hard because of COVID. We weren’t allowed to use Stanford’s facilities due to health protocols at the time. We were on the road for 10 weeks. Not to say that I wasn’t close to my team at that point but I was definitely more isolated.

I feel like you struggle the most when you feel lonely. As human beings we’re meant to be interacting with people—to be social and to feel loved. I’ve allowed myself to build strong relationships and I’ve found people to lean on. It’s not just my friends on my basketball team but I’ve made so many amazing friends off the court too.

As much as I try to focus on basketball, school, and pushing myself on the court I think it’s been a good balance to get to know people.

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