Through Women in the Game, UNLV’s Lindy La Rocque Can Share Wisdom with Rising Assistant Meg Cunningham
In the normal course of their lives, college basketball coaches Lindy La Rocque and Meg Cunningham probably would not have crossed paths right now.
La Rocque, the former star player at Stanford, is making her mark entering her third year as the UNLV women’s coach. Cunningham, the director of women’s basketball operations for Niagara University, never was able to play a game in college due to serious ankle injury.
And yet, thanks to USA Basketball’s Women in the Game Mentorship Program, the two are developing a relationship based on their love for the game and other commonalities. The mentorship program brings together aspiring professionals, such as Cunningham, with mentors like La Rocque to help grow career arcs and develop future female leaders in sports.
The pairs do six video chat meetings, discussing pre-set topics (professional development, leadership skills, building confidence, etc.) and whatever else they choose. The program has been running since 2017, with La Rocque and Cunningham starting their cohort last month. They’ve met twice so far, over Zoom, and are enjoying getting to know each other.
Their first in-person meeting will come at the next Women in the Game conference Sept. 9-10 in Las Vegas.
“I wasn’t initially sure if I had enough experience yet to offer myself as a mentor, since I’m still pretty young myself as head coach, but I decided I was going to say yes to the opportunity — and I’m glad I did,” La Rocque, 32, said. “Compared to the coaches like Tara (VanDerveer) and Sherri (Coale), who have decades being at the top of the game and helped mentor me, I know I am coming at this process in a different way. We can talk about the things I have just been through, like interviewing or resumes, or how I am figuring out my way of coaching. I’d say it’s more about me sharing what I think with Meg, and telling her, ‘Let’s talk it over.’”
Cunningham applied to the mentorship program because she believes strongly in the value of the relationship. Cunningham is in her second year at Niagara, with assistant coaching stops at Fairleigh Dickinson and St. Francis (PA) on her resume.
Her dream is to reach the NBA, but she also loves the men’s college game, too. Cunningham wants to chart a career path coaching men that is just starting to open more to women. La Rocque has strong NBA, WNBA and pro hoops ties, with the Aces and NBA Summer League in town, plus her personal networks.
Cunningham didn’t know who would be assigned as her mentor but admits she was little nervous when she saw it was La Rocque.
“I mean, she’s Lindy La Rocque — she’s amazing. She’s been big-time in every way in basketball for a long time, and I didn’t even have any kind of a career like that yet, so yeah, I was a little worried I wouldn’t be what she wanted or whatever,” Cunningham, 28, said with a laugh. “Well, I was wrong. After like the first few minutes of us talking, I felt so comfortable. We’ve not run out of things to talk about, and I am going to ask her all the questions I can to pick her brain about everything.”
Their chats have already led to some important moments. They’ve gone off script and discussed basketball strategy. Another time, one of the prompts was to go over cover letters and resumes. Cunningham, who has interviewed for five coaching gigs in the last few years, wants to be even stronger in conveying her credentials. La Rocque showed Cunningham her materials. Then, with her UNLV assistant coaches’ permission, she showed Cunningham their cover letters, resumes and portfolios, too.
“That was huge, because we could really break down what was effective and how they presented themselves,” Cunningham said. “I looked at the design, the feel, the words, all of it. It was such a big opportunity to see what people who are successful are doing.”
La Rocque wants to give that layer of transparency to her mentee, an approach she said she carries into every part of her life. She wants to build trust by being authentic while also being open to learning from every person and experience.
Her time is precious these days, filled with her coaching duties and making speeches and appearances to build up UNLV’s basketball visibility, all while also managing being six months pregnant. The calendar is booked, but there is definitely still time for Cunningham.
“I am totally a ‘what you see is what you get’ type of person, even if people think I am crazy for running around and doing everything,” La Rocque said. “I’ve already learned something important from this experience with Meg: It’s critical to bring people into your circles that do not think like you or have the same experiences. Meg and I come from different parts of the country: she’s from Philly and I am from Vegas. Our college experiences were different. And now our coaching paths are a little different too.
“But we are both learning from each other by sharing our experiences and who we are. It’s made me realize we need to take the risk to have experiences to meet new people, because we can all benefit from it. Making our circles bigger makes all of us stronger.”
Joanne C. Gerstner has covered two Olympic Games and writes about sports regularly for the New York Times and other outlets. She is a freelance contributor to USAB.com on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.