Women’s basketball associate head coach Courtney Cunningham is making an impact on many levels at Montclair State University.
Cunningham, who is in her 15th season coaching at Montclair State and her 10th as associate head coach, also works for the university as an assistant dean for student services with the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. In that role, she helps students academically with course selection, major/minor exploration, graduation planning and more.
Cunningham’s climb to assistant dean and associate head coach wasn’t always in her plans but she stayed the course and found her home.
“I went to grad school here and I was an assistant coach, so back when I was 22,” Cunningham said. “And then I got my grad degree. I went on to teach for two years in high school and it just wasn’t for me so I was looking to get back into higher ed but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted in higher ed. And there was a part-time job open in academic advising so I took a risk, I took it. I loved it, absolutely loved it so I did that and I was still coaching here. And then I knew that this is what I wanted to do, I wanted to be full-time in higher ed and coach on the side just to be able to see students from different perspectives.”
Cunningham clearly has a passion for helping young adults in many forms but she especially loves seeing students and athletes reach their full potential and more.
“I love the relationships that you build,” Cunningham said. “Getting to know them as people and then getting to see them grow as well as people but also as basketball players. You bring someone in and you see all this potential in them and then you coach them for four years and you see them reach it and a lot of times you see them go even further beyond where they thought or you thought they were even capable of. So that to me is just super rewarding.”
Cunningham graduated from Drew University in 2007 and was an outstanding two-sport athlete as she was named an All-American in basketball and lacrosse.
Her relationship with current Montclair State women’s basketball head coach Karin Harvey began at Drew University during her senior season in 2006 when Harvey was the head coach there. The rest is history as Cunningham joined Harvey at Montclair State the next year as an assistant coach and the two of them have become best friends on and off the floor.
Having Harvey by her side has helped Cunningham tremendously and she has learned many lessons from Harvey during their time together.
“I tell people this all the time, I would not be here today if it wasn’t for [Harvey],” Cunningham said. “She is a big reason why I’ve been able to be so successful, of course, my parents have been super influential too but, I mean she has taught me so much just about how to be a professional, how to go about things, how to communicate effectively, how to be a good colleague and good worker.”
Harvey took her under her wing and taught Cunningham important working skills as a young adult.
“She kind of almost raised me as like a young adult in the working world teaching me what to do,” Cunningham said. “And then I went out and did it and I listened to what she said and, I mean, it’s unbelievable.”
Harvey has accomplished many outstanding achievements over the years but working alongside Cunningham and becoming close with her has been something that Harvey will treasure forever.
“It’s been probably one of the greatest gifts that the game of basketball has given me,” Harvey said.
According to Harvey, the two of them have slightly different styles and strengths in some areas of coaching and that is why they work so well together.
“I think we work really well together,” Harvey said. “I mean [Cunningham] and I have different strengths, [Cunningham] is really more of an x’s and o’s coach [and] I kind of coach by feel and player relationships and that kind of stuff. So I think we have totally different strengths and I think that works really well to come at the game from two different lenses.”
With Cunningham being an assistant dean in student services, that role also carries over to coaching as she is a massive help when it comes to making sure all of the players are where they need to be academically.
“She does everything for us from the academic side of things,” Harvey said. “She’s an assistant dean and she does all of our players’ schedules and she helps them when they have any issues and she makes sure they graduate in four years. And you know provides them with all kinds of academic support, so from an academic standpoint, I think our team is extremely fortunate to have her. And then from a basketball standpoint, I mean she was an All-American and one of the greatest players I’ve ever coached so they also get to [have] her basketball expertise.”
Cunningham’s impact on the program has been immense and Montclair State women’s basketball wouldn’t have accomplished everything they did in the past without her, according to Harvey, but three things really come to mind when she thinks about Cunningham.
“I think she’s a true educator,” Harvey said. “And I think she has an enormous amount of empathy and compassion. I think being a teacher and empathetic and compassionate, I think she combines all those three things to make her fantastic at both of her jobs at the university.”
Between her almost two different careers at Montclair State, Cunningham is leaving her mark on a campus with her phenomenal and compassionate guidance.