As a standout basketball player at Clarksburg High School, Nicole Cunningham was moving toward her dream of playing the sport professionally in the WNBA. She was a dominant player for the Coyotes and was being recruited by several NCAA Division I schools.
But near the end of her high school tenure, the Germantown resident’s life drastically changed. On July 11, 2010, Cunningham had a daughter and her pursuit of a college basketball scholarship had to be put on hold. Later that year — around Christmas of Cunningham’s senior season — she transferred from Clarksburg to Seneca Valley, where she graduated.
Then, aboout 11 months after the birth of Harmony, Cunningham had a son, DeSean, on June 16, 2011.
“It’s been pretty tough, but I’m managing everything,” said Cunningham, who added that she probably would have committed to Duke. “I was disappointed in myself because I was getting scouted and looked at by some pretty big D-I schools, but at the same time it was life. ... Down the road, I knew I’d get back to the basketball court.”
Now, with her life balanced, the 6-foot-2 forward/center, is reviving her basketball career as a freshman at Montgomery College.
“Basketball keeps everything together,” said Cunningham, who brings her children to practice several times a week. “I love it and it’s really helped me manage time with the kids, work and school. I just had to wait until the kids were a certain age.”
Raptors coach Tarlouh Gasque agrees.
“Nicole’s done something that I can really applaud her for,” Gasque said. “Not necessarily from the basketball standpoint. ... but she’s come back to school. Raising children, working, school and playing ball are not easy. But I do know she wants to do well for her kids.”
Cunningham, who hopes to transfer to a four-year program and still play in the WNBA, will provide a much needed post presence on both ends of the court for the Raptors, which began their season Friday at the Roxbury (Mass.) Tournament.
Gasque said her team, which has perennially advanced to the national tournament in recent years, has more talent and depth this season. The 16-woman roster features a good mix and deep rotation of players in the frontcourt and backcourt.
“You can’t coach height and I’m really blessed this year,” she said. “If I can play everyone, I’m going to play everyone, but they are going to have to be disciplined and play my style of ball.”
Gasque says the team will implement — as usual — a fast-paced style of play focused on pushing the ball up the court. She also believes the Raptors will be able to consistently score from all areas of the floor with legitimate threats from the post to accompany their usual shooters.
Joining Cunningham in the starting lineup will likely be freshman point guard Jebria Smith (Washington Latin, 5-5), sophomore shooting guard Angelica Ceccone (Walt Whitman, 5-8) and freshman 6-foot forward Kierra McKellery (Arundel). Either sophomore guard/forward Meghann Tilghman (Rockville) or freshman guard/forward Kiana Daley (O’Bryant School of Math and Science) are expected to round out the starters.
Audrey Rankin (Quince Orchard), Trystan Sparks (Gaithersburg), Aimee Hart (John F. Kennedy), Jimica Mozie (Clarksburg) and Caprice Harvey (Shenandoah Valley) should all be key contributors off the bench.
“Some of the press we’ve got has helped us because people are more aware of us,” Gasque said. “I think I have a pretty good team here.”