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Cummings-Price writes new chapter for female coaches at #AfroBasketWomen 2019
DAKAR (Senegal) - Scribbling down notes in her book real quick while keeping an eye on the team practice session, Natosha Cummings-Price exudes the confidence and straight up seriousness of a lady in charge.
Many around her do not know yet that she is the head coach of the Cameroon women's national basketball team that is competing in the ongoing FIBA Women's AfroBasket 2019 in the Senegalese capital of Dakar.
She dons a green shirt with the wording Cameroon at the front while two gentlemen on either side of the court are dressed in the red version of the same shirt taking the ladies through the plays.
These gentlemen are Hamed Njoya from Cameroon and Italian Stefano Bizzozi who themselves are former head coaches of the Lionesses and are currently her assistants. Cameroon are at the Dakar Arena to have a feel of the court before the tournament tips off.
A gentleman seeking information on Cameroon asks for her help and requests her to point him to the head coach. She says, "That would be me."
His jaw drops and he nods in approval of this rather shocking revelation and indeed his genuine smile betrays his shock and at the same time tells of utmost respect to this woman who is rewriting history at this biennial competition in its 26th edition.
This and even more are some of things that female coaches have to deal with in the world of sports - that women are not expected to hold positions of power in coaching let alone basketball coaching.
"IT IS A TRUE HONOUR FOR ME TO BE ABLE TO COME TO ANOTHER COUNTRY AND BE ABLE TO TEACH THE GAME OF BASKETBALL FROM A WOMAN'S PERSPECTIVE. BASKETBALL IS A UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE WHETHER IT IS TAUGHT BY A MAN OR A WOMAN."
When she took to the court side on Sunday as Cameroon defeated Tunisia in their opening tie at the tournament, her name went down as the first of her kind to be head coach at Africa's premier women's basketball event.
This feat in itself comes at a time when several American female coaches are breaking barriers that they too can take up challenges in what has for a long time been seen as a no-go area for women.
In an exclusive interview with FIBA.basketball, Cummings-Price said, "The sky is the limit of what we are capable of doing and what we can do especially when given the opportunity to show women in Africa, women from other countries as well as women in my country that we are just as good coaches as the men. My goal is to try and take Cameroon to a championship. I am not here to just meddle. I am here to win it all."
In front of their fans in Yaounde back in 2015, Cameroon finished second losing to Senegal 81-66 in a very tightly contested game never mind the 15-point difference in the end. This was their best performance since their debut in 1984 in Senegal when they finished as bronze medalists.
On their 2019 return to the West Coast, Cameroon find themselves outside the serious title contenders if their 2017 performance finishing eighth in Mali is anything to go by. They are not Nigeria, the reigning champions and neither are they Senegal, the hosts and 12-time record winners of this prestigious event.
Nevertheless, Cummings-Price is not mincing her words and insists that Cameroon are here to win the title and not to just participate in the competition.
Cummings-Price looks on in her debut game
In more ways than one, this is a fresh slate to create a new culture of resilience within a young squad that has the experienced power forward Amina Njonkou, 31, to learn from.
Solange Ebondji and Sandrine Ayangma, who are 32, are also doing a lot to provide a cushion of comfort and constant positive pressure to the young ones.
This transition and leadership by example from the veterans to the young ones like Cinthia Mbakop and Paola Nyinkeu who are both 22 is an adjustment that puts a smile on the face and warms the heart of Cummings-Price. She does not hide it.
Midway through the team's age curve is Marie Ange Mfoula, who was very key to their qualification to the [Women's ] AfroBasket and is the captain of the team also bridging the gap between the English speaking Cummings-Price and the rest of the bilingual squad so befitting for Cameroon who recognise both French and English as official languages.
Cummings-price pays a lot of attention to detail so much that she made it her business to include former Cameroon captain Priscilla Mbiandja by her side in the role of Team Manager as she continues to guide her and prepare her to be her assistant in the near future.
"It is very important to me to empower more women and for me it is an honour because I feel like I represent women of the world and it is an opportunity for all women that not only can we perform on the court but we are just as good off the court as a basketball coach or a basketball administrator," Cummings-Price explains.
"Priscilla played on this team and retired last year so she understands them very much and this helps me to get to know them better. I was with the team in the FIBA Africa Zone 4 Qualifiers in April-May and so I can say that I am getting to know them a lot more every other day."
Cummings-Price is, however, quick to note that it is very important to acknowledge the men that have played a very key role in her coaching career.
Two that really stand out at the moment include the Nigeria head coach for the men's side Alexander Nwora who is also in charge at Erie Community College in the USA where she is his assistant for the boys team and head coach of the girls team.
Cummings-Price is an assistant coach to Nwora at Erie Community College, USA
The Cameroon Basketball Federation president Samuel Nduku, who was among the key decision makers in getting Cummings-Price into this specific role does not shy away from the realisation that he is part of history. He says, "Women too can coach basketball just like the men."
She says, "Thank you for believing and trusting in a woman for this opportunity. I hope to not fail them and to hope and believe that the decision they made is the best decision for the program. I understand the risk they took to even accept me as a female coach especially if it is something that has not been done at this level in Africa."
"To know that someone would believe in me and give me that opportunity is truly an honour. We as women strive to look for these opportunities and the window of opportunities is not always provided because we are women especially women of colour, it is even harder to get a team to coach basketball."
"It is a true honour for me to be able to come to another country and be able to teach the game of basketball from a woman's perspective. Basketball is a universal language whether it is taught by a man or a woman."
For Cummings-Price, this is a continuation of an age-old struggle to cast a shining light on the ever-increasing number of female basketball coaches world over and more so in the USA where Becky Hammon, Kara Lawson and Jenny Boucek who are assistant coaches in the NBA for the San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics and the Dallas Mavericks in that order are breaking barriers and taking their place.
"We are not seen as having the cognitive understanding of the game on the level as a man but when given the opportunity, we can show that we are just as knowledgeable in the game of basketball as a male coach especially when we have been taught by male coaches."
"I have been taught by some of the top male coaches in the United States as well as some of the top women coaches such as Vivian Stringer and Bob Knight because I have gone to some of his workshops."
Unknowingly, Cummings-Price is already being celebrated by other female coaches in the assistant coach role at the tournament. They are completely thrilled.
Mozambique legend Deolinda Ngulela, who has since retired from professional basketball, is currently the assistant coach in this role for a second consecutive FIBA Women's AfroBasket.
Ngulela told FIBA.basketball that, "I even have shivers on my skin when I think about her on the court side. This is truly an inspiration to all of us that it is possible for a woman to be the head coach of a team."
She is not alone. She shares thoughts with Nigeria's Ndidi Madu, who retired just last year and went straight into coaching in the USA. She is currently the assistant coach of the reigning champions Nigeria after helping them win the title as a player in 2017.
Madu said, "When I saw her, I was surprised. Definitely, she is paving the way for young coaches like me. Federations in Africa need to change the way they think because the majority of coaches are men. She is showing that times are changing. This is what I want to do. We do not have the limitation. Women too can be head coaches."
In 2017, Brigitte Affidehome Tonon wrote history as the first female head coach of a men's side in Africa, when she took charge of Benin. At the time, Liz Mills from Australia was assistant coach of Zambia and has since been a part of the Cameroon men's technical bench setup.