CAMDEN – For the last eight years, Cara Racobaldo and Michelle Obasi have been playing basketball together, pushing each other, picking each other up and supporting one another as much as they have dribbled, boxed out and helped out on defense.
For them, playing basketball together is as much about caring for each other as players as it is sharing wins.
They started together at Camden Catholic High School, bonding as promising freshman with their whole hoops lives ahead of them. Now, they are accomplished and decorated seniors on the Rutgers-Camden University women’s basketball team. Fittingly, they are receiving admirable awards together.
And, Racobaldo and Obasi are winning together, closing out their symbiotic careers soaring like the Eagles.
“That is why we are so successful, they are the core of the program,” Rutgers-Camden coach Annette Reiter gushed after the Scarlet Raptors’ fifth-straight win Saturday.
On Monday, Racobaldo was named the New Jersey Athletic Conference Player of the Week after averaging 19.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 6.0 steals in a pair of NJAC victories.
Racobaldo, a versatile guard/forward from Pennsauken, is the inaugural Rutgers-Camden women's basketball player to win the NJAC Player of the Week honors this season and the first since her dear friend Obasi earned the honor last season.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, Obasi was honored by the New Jersey Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (NJAIAW) as the Rutgers-Camden's Woman of the Year.
The forward/center from Camden was recognized by the NJAIAW during the organization's 26th Annual New Jersey Woman of the Year Awards Luncheon at Seton Hall University, which was part of a celebration of National Girls and Women in Sports Day. The NJAIAW honors Women of the Year recipients from all two- and four-year colleges in New Jersey for “significant contributions to her institution and community through athletic accomplishments, academic success, and community involvement."
“When I first started and took over the team, I wanted players like Cara and Michelle,” Reiter said. “They come from great families and they come from a great high school program and their work ethic is what I want to build the program on, that is where our success lies.”
But with all their success together, Racobaldo and Obasi are having a tough time enjoying these recent honors.
“It’s bittersweet, it’s my last year playing with Michelle,” Racobaldo said. “We both worked hard and we’re getting what we deserve, but ...”
“It’s been a great eight years playing alongside her,” Obasi added, standing next to her friend by the trophy case of the Rutgers gym where their names will soon adorn.
For the season, the 5-foot-9 Racobaldo leads Rutgers in assists (123) and steals (69), is second in rebounding average (6.8) and is third in scoring (12.2). Remarkably, the pass-first and win-at-what-takes Racobaldo is the first player in program history to record a 100-plus assist season all four years of her sparkling career and she is the Scarlet Raptors all-time assist leader with 475.
Obasi is also one of the elite performers in program history, playing in 98 games (tied for fifth), scoring 1,136 points (ninth), grabbing 761 rebounds (tied for sixth), collecting 147 steals (tied for 11th) and dishing 133 assists (15th). The 5-11 Obasi ranks 11th on the career list for rebounding average (7.8) and 15th for scoring average (11.6).
The numbers, though, that matter most for both of them is their won-loss record - the Scarlet Raptors are 13-8 overall and 10-5 in the NJAC.
They keep their success formula simple and as solid as their friendship:
“I just throw it to her when things break down,” Racobaldo said, “I get the ball to Michelle.”
“I always know Cara will come through,” Obasi said, “and I always know that she’s looking to get me the ball.”
Racobaldo, a nursing major who has served on Rutgers-Camden's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and was named to the inaugural Athletic Director's Honor Roll for the Fall 2015 semester, is obviously caring on and off the court.
She is also a fierce competitor on the court. Last week against Stockton, she posted her sixth double-double of her career with 20 points and 10 boards. She also dealt seven assists and swiped three steals. Then, on Saturday in an overtime win against Kean, Racobaldo collected 19 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and nine steals. The nine steals tied her career high.
But what the stat sheet doesn’t show is how the Raptors were down three points with four seconds left and a full court in front of them, Racobaldo inbounded the ball to her teammate, who quickly passed the ball right back to her.
Racobaldo, who comes from a family of outstanding and heady athletes, understood she had time from years of playing and watching her siblings and cousins compete and hearing stories about her father and her uncles star at many sports at various South Jersey high schools. So she used her instincts as well as her talent to take a few quick dribbles and then toss a halfcourt pass to junior guard Brennah Lambert (Sterling), who spun and banked in the game tying 3-pointer.
The play is a snap shot of her career in which she has played in 96 games at Rutgers, averaging 9.1 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 4.9 assists.
As a frosh, she sank 21 straight free throws to set a program record. As a sophomore, she recorded a rare triple-double with 18 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists, which tied for the third-highest single-game assist total in program history.
Like Racobaldo, Obasi is in her third season as a team captain. She has a staggering seven double-doubles this season, including in the last outing against Kean with 11 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, and now has 18 career double-doubles. Obasi leads the Raptors this season in rebounds (8.2) and blocked shots (19) and is second in scoring (12.9) and assists (40) and third in steals (38).
Obasi, who was tabbed the Rutgers-Camden's Most Valuable Player last season, has been named to all five Rutgers-Camden Athletic Director's Honor Roll lists since the recognition was established during the Fall 2015 semester as a biology major with a minor in African-American studies.
However, with all the accolades the two Camden Catholic friends have accumulated at Rutgers-Camden, they wish they could trade them for another season.
“I really couldn’t have predicted this for years ago, it has been an interesting road and I’m sorry it has to end,” Obasi said. “I’m trying to keep a strong mindset, but I’m struggling … I don’t want it to end.”
“I know it’s definitely in play, but I haven’t been thinking about it, the ending, I don’t want it to happen and or think about it,” Racobaldo said.
The end of their glorious careers together creeps closer to the end Wednesday night when Rutgers-Camden plays Ramapo College at 6 p.m. in its final regular-season home game. The Raptors will celebrate Senior Night, honoring their trio of senior tri-captains, including Michelle McCarthy (Gloucester Catholic).
Obasi and Racobaldo aren’t the only ones who don’t want to see their careers end.
“I’m so proud of them,” Reiter said. “On Senior Night, I’m going to cry. They are the epitome of what I’d want my daughter to be.”