In the upcoming issue of Finest Magazine things will be done a little differently. Yes the focus will remain on local talent excelling in the game of basketball of course, however, instead of focusing on players the next issue will shine light on the individuals who walk the sidelines....the coaches. Coaches are the heart and soul of any program. They put their philosophy, personality and pretty much everything else into building a quality program. Players no matter how talented, can only go so far without the lessons of the teacher on the court, the coaches. Michael Jordan once said this regarding his college coach at the University of North Carolina, the late great Dean Smith "A lot of people say Dean Smith held me to under 20 points a game. Dean Smith gave me the knowledge to score 37 points a game and that's something people don't understand." In issue nine, I asked numerous coaches throughout the DMV area from all levels to be a part of this special issue, to share their various philosophies on evaluation of players, X's and O's and ultimate goals as coaches, short and long term. First is one of the best high school girls coaches in the area, former Georgetown Hoya now Friendship Collegiate Academy Girls Basketball Head Coach Tesha Nixon-Cunningham. Nixon-Cunningham a former George Mason assistant and standout player in her own right, took over a struggling Friendship Collegiate Academy Girls program and never looked back, winning in her first season as head coach, the first of multiple WCSAA Championships. Along with her on court accolades, she has sent numerous players to college and co-founded with her husband Leon Cunningham Get .A.M.P.ed Inc, a athlete mentoring program that focuses on preparing high school level student athletes for the rigors of being a college level student athlete. I recently had a chance to catch up with Nixon-Cunningham to get her thoughts on her journey as a coach, what she looks for in evaluating players and the state of high school girls basketball as a whole. Below is an excerpt from the full interview with Tesha Nixon-Cunningham.
FM- What pushed you in to coaching?
TNC - I don't think I was pushed, I think it just happened naturally. I believe it's my calling. Whether it's coaching basketball or coaching life to our youth. I grew up watching my father coach boy's sports including my older and younger brother. He ended up coaching me in the latter years of my high school career as well. My mom has always been the "silent assistant coach" and believe it or not, our dinner conversations as a family were usually analyzing some aspect of a game. Both of my parents are my inspiration and my backbone. My father now is my assistant coach at Friendship.
FM- At Friendship Collegiate you have built one of the dominant programs in the area, can you speak on the journey to get to this point because we all know success does not come over night?
TNC - After leaving George Mason University as an assistant coach, I took the job as a teacher and assistant basketball coach for several years. The head coaching position fell into my lap after a few years and I welcomed the challenge. It has been a long journey, and as my dad would say, "we still have a long way to go". But, I think that it has been the unique look that my entire staff has taken on the word WINNING. We look at winning as getting girls who desire to play in college into college and providing them with the necessary tools to be successful on and off the court. We look at winning as getting better each time we step on the court and appreciating the steps that it takes to get to success. This year has been a challenge even with a winning record. I was really trying to wrap my mind around some of the outcomes of games and disappointing losses. As my husband and my mentors have told me, we are no longer the "hunters"; we now we are the "hunted". Our approach has to be adjusted in the coming years. I spent the past years preparing my teams to fight for respect every time we stepped on the court because we don't come from history as a program – no one knew who we were. We were trying to make history. It has been a fun journey, but now it's time to take it to the next level and become better than just known, but well respected is the goal.
FM-When evaluating players what are the traits you look for when considering them for your program?
TNC- One of the reasons it has taken so long to begin to earn respect as a program is because I have an "old school" mentality. I have taken the talent that wanted to attend Friendship because they were intrigued by the academics and/or the program and I worked with them. My "teacher mentality" makes me put in the time and effort to teach our girls to exude traits that make them coachable, hardworking, humble, and respectful. In the last few years I have had players express an interest in playing with our program; I always discuss our team GPA and the commitment expectations that our program requires. I believe making this clear to the players up front helps with narrowing down our team.
The entire interview will be in the upcoming issue of Finest Mag 9, coming in late June