St. Joe's guard Natasha Cloud gives - and receives

St. Joseph's Natasha Cloud (right), comforting a teammate, was back with her team a day after her family home in Broomall was destroyed by fire. AP
St. Joseph's Natasha Cloud (right), comforting a teammate, was back with her team a day after her family home in Broomall was destroyed by fire. AP
Posted: December 26, 2013

Natasha Cloud has always been about the assist. We're not just talking basketball here, although the St. Joseph's star currently is second in all of Division I women's hoops with 8.5 assists a game.

That statistic - and what it represents - extends to her life.

"Tash thinks of other people first; she always has," said St. Joseph's women's basketball coach Cindy Griffin, calling Cloud the team's emotional leader. "She has a real sense of her teammates and other people. She has a heart of gold. She plays like that."

This helps explain why in one of the toughest weeks she will experience, Cloud responded to a request for a newspaper interview.

Early Thursday morning, Cloud's family lost its Broomall home and everything in it, gutted by a fire.

"It's so hard to keep track of how many people are reaching out," Cloud said Sunday afternoon. "I don't think people will ever know how truly appreciative my family is. This is a way to thank them."

Even the details of what happened after the family discovered smoke coming from the dryer - after the dog had started barking, just wanting to go out, they had assumed - tell you more about Natasha Cloud.

Her family had been up late after visiting her older sister. When they saw smoke, her mother realized it was coming from the dryer, where she was drying some of Natasha's clothes. There was just smoke. Within about 21/2 minutes, they saw flames.

Cloud grabbed a fire extinguisher, she said, as her father ran to turn off the gas and her mother called 9-1-1. By this time, a smoke alarm was blaring. Her sister, asleep upstairs, already had come downstairs and got out safely.

As smoke took over the house, they all got out, but Cloud ran back in to get their dog, Maddie, and their bird. She tried to get their cat, Casper, but the cat had run under a couch, she said. The smoke got to be too much, the risk too great.

This all took about five minutes, she said.

"The firefighters told my parents afterward they'd never seen so much smoke," Cloud said.

When Griffin's phone rang at 1:30 in the morning, the coach had that sinking feeling.

"It's never good," she said.

Amid the first rush of information, Griffin said, she didn't know about Cloud's efforts to save the family's pets.

"I found that out after the fact," Griffin said. "I probably would have yelled at her. That is her."

A chain of concern formed quickly in those early-morning hours. A teammate arrived with her mother from Drexel Hill. A Hawks assistant got over there right after her.

Because most of her clothes are at school, Cloud said, she is in better shape than the rest of her family.

"My family lost everything," she said. "My mom had her work clothes on. My sister had pajamas on. That's all they have."

But that changed quickly, Cloud said, as word spread.

"We had gift cards before noon from Kohl's, Target, Giant, just to get, like, the basic necessities," she said.

The Cardinal O'Hara graduate quickly heard from all sorts of people through the local basketball community.

"The support we've gotten has been unbelievable," Cloud said. "Being from Delco, where basketball is a big deal, I never would have thought so many people would have reached out, texted, 'Hey, what does your family need?' "

Her conversation with her coach about practice that day went something like this:

"I can go to practice."

"You don't need to go to practice. 'Tash, you got an hour's sleep."

"I'm fine either way."

"You need to be with your family."

St. Joseph's, the defending Atlantic Ten Conference champion, is off to a great start. The Hawks had won nine of their first 10, losing only at 15th-ranked Louisiana State. The next game was against another ranked team, last Saturday at 23d-ranked Syracuse.

Cloud said that by the time she talked to her coach again about 7 a.m. Thursday, she already had decided she was going to make the trip.

"Being a captain, being a part of the team, I have another responsibility," Cloud said. "As much as they are my team, they are my family. I told her, 'I'm coming to Syracuse. I'm going to be there.' My parents both agreed."

Sitting around her grandparents' house while her team was playing a big game would have been torture anyway. Griffin told her that it was her choice, that if she wasn't up for the trip it was all right, but the bus was leaving at 5 p.m. Friday.

When she showed up, Cloud said, the men's coaches came out from practice and gave her hugs and then stopped the workout so the Hawks men's players could do the same.

"I was in tears," Cloud said. "And my teammates have been amazing."

She isn't saying it was easy to go away. Her mind, Cloud said, was also back with her family.

The Hollywood version of the trip may have had Cloud driving for the winning basket. The real-life version had Cloud driving the lane and scoring the tying basket with 21 seconds remaining at the Carrier Dome.

However, Syracuse nailed a layup at the buzzer for a 64-62 victory. Cloud scored seven points, and the 6-foot guard tied a career high with 13 assists.

"Her teammates rallied around her, and she rallied around them," Griffin said. "She's a people person. She wants to be strong, and be that person the others can depend on."

The help she has received - her family would do the same for anybody else if the roles were reversed, Cloud said. She gets it.

Still, she's grateful for all the assists.

"Honestly, I can't put it into words," she said.


mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus

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