Ever since she picked up a ball, Ivory Latta was always been different. She’s remained 5-6 (with shoes) in a women’s game that saw a collective growth spurt over the last decade. Best known for bringing a playground flavor to the college game while donning the Tar Heel baby blue, she used to dance around opponents on offense with a single crossover followed by a blow-by to the basket. Then on the other end, she’d dive for the ball, floor burns and all, on the very next play.
Latta didn’t fit the mold for the traditional female baller, so she created a new one instead.
So when most of her WNBA peers left the states to play overseas this fall (as they do every offseason), Ivory Latta switched things up again by launching the Ivory Latta Life Skills Academy for young women, sponsored by women’s apparel line Nfinity. The first session took place in Atlanta on Oct. 21-22, and two more sessions are scheduled in Houston (Nov. 24-25) and Jackson, TN (Mar. 23-24).
Well aware that the shelf life of an athlete is numbered by the threat of injury and the competition of incoming fresh legs, Latta wants to teach young girls to aspire towards something beyond basketball.
“Basketball has taken me a long way, and I’ll keep riding out until I can’t play anymore,” she says. “The game don’t last that long. There’s so much more out there than basketball.
“These young ladies need to know that when that basketball stops bouncing, they have to be ready to do other things.”
Aside from on the court fundamentals, Latta’s curriculum consisted of how to brand and market oneself in social media amid the digital age, how to maximize education in creating potential career paths, and self-image, how to carry oneself as a young woman against gender stereotyping.
As the national spokeswoman for Ampro Gel, Latta is featured in two issues of Sister2Sister Magazine, hoping to break down the “either-or” stereotype that young female athletes face: the narrow choice to be either a baller, a “tomboy” or a “girly-girl.”
Latta believes positive role models can transcend these barriers.
“I wanted these girls to know that the way you carry yourself is how you’ll be respected,” Latta says. “As WNBA players, I don’t think we get the respect we deserve, so we know it’s important to be role models for these young women to follow.”
Latta plans to bring several of her WNBA colleagues to speak at the camps, including WNBA All-Star and former Duke standout Lindsey Harding of the Atlanta Dream. Also making an appearance will be Rushia Brown, who has a combined 17 years of professional basketball experience internationally and in the WNBA. Brown currently serves as the President and Founder of the Women’s Professional Basketball Alumni Association.
Part of Latta’s motivation for creating a coalition of professional female mentors for her camps was because growing up, she didn’t have a female mentor to interact with. She idolized Cynthia Cooper, one of the most celebrated pioneers of the game. But at that time, women’s basketball couldn’t generate enough revenue for a professional league, let alone a camp.
Now after an illustrious college career where she led North Carolina to back-to-back Final Four appearances in 2006 and 2007, Latta averaged 14.3 points a game this season with the Tulsa Shock, her sixth in the WNBA. Yet as much as she’s accomplished, people continue to doubt her because of her size.
Besides just using her stature to pick an opponent’s pocket on defense, she’s determined to inspire girls to overcome adversity in pursuit of their passion.
“I use my height as motivation and as my advantage on the court,” she says. “My obstacle my whole life, and still is now, is that I was the shortest on every team I’ve ever played on.
“But I was the quickest, the smartest, did things other players really couldn’t do. I took all of the negative things that was said about my height, and about not being this or that kind of [traditional] point guard, and turned it into the positive thing. You have to have heart.”
Cooper [now Cooper-Dyke], now retired from her playing days, is the current women’s basketball head coach at Texas Southern University. As Latta continues to pursue her passion for mentorship, she may eventually follow in her former hero’s footsteps and coach full-time.
“I think I have the passion and drive for it,” Latta said. “Maybe one day I’ll give it a shot and be ready to coach on the college level.”
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