Baltimore Cougars Legends build a bridge to women's overseas basketball leagues

During her basketball career at Morgan State, Tamara Moore never wanted to play professionally. She decided she would rather work to make that dream come true for other young women.

Moore, who as Tamara Rogers helped Milford Mill win a state championship in 2005, learned a lot during her college career about the struggles some players faced while pursuing professional careers in the WNBA or overseas. She founded the Baltimore Cougars Legends program in 2013 to smooth that process for players who weren’t getting drafted out of college.

“Even though I could play, I was always into what I’m into now: How can a woman really live a life and be an athlete?” she said.

Her mission is to train players for overseas leagues, help them get started in their careers and navigate problems that arise over there, and help veteran players get better contracts.

While the women are prepared to play basketball, they aren’t always aware of the business side of the professional game.

“After my sister tried out for the L.A. Sparks and they wanted her try out for a whole different position than she came for, I really got to see the business side of it,” said Moore, 31. “I want to be able to figure out how we can get more talent overseas or how we can get the women to make more money over here.”

At 5 feet 11, Tamika Rogers was taller than the other players at Milford Mill and Lebanon Valley College, so she always played center or forward. When she showed up to try out for the Los Angeles Sparks of the WNBA, the coaches wanted her to switch to shooting guard.

“Had I known prior to that, I would have trained for the position,” said Rogers, 34. “I really feel like if I had someone like my sister who knew about those things, it would have helped me tremendously. I would have changed my mindset, because 80 percent of it is mental. If you’re prepared, you can push yourself to do that. If I had that training, knowledge and development, I feel I would have been playing in the league.”

Moore didn’t want to be an agent, so she founded the Baltimore Cougars Legends as a nonprofit organization. With help from her sister and many others, she provides the physical and skills training needed to compete in the pro leagues and helps recruits build the resumes scouts are looking for. She also gives advice about what it’s like to play in a foreign country: Do they need an agent? How will they get around? How do they navigate the language? What if they have children?

“Tammy’s biggest focus is giving back,” said Tracey Carrington, a Dundalk graduate who has twice played overseas. “If you don’t know about the business and being naive, it could turn ugly. It’s very important to get with someone you trust. People know the athletic side, but they don’t know the business side. If you don’t have the right person in your corner, they might not have your best interest at heart.”

After playing in college and in a semipro league in Atlanta, Moore had a lot of contacts from whom she could learn about the overseas experience. All she needed was a way to impart her knowledge.

Since the Cougars had fielded one of the top Amateur Athletic Union programs when Rogers played, she borrowed the name with the blessing of Cougars founder Wardell Selby, the Dunbar girls basketball coach.

“Selby found out what I was doing and he said, ‘Take something legendary that has a name, bring all of these girls back that we sent to college and try to push them further,’ ” Moore said. “So I started looking for players that was already playing overseas that would want to develop further and compete when they came home.”

Moore also wanted younger girls to see them play, so that the next generation would have professional players in Baltimore to look up to. Last year, the Baltimore Cougars Legends fielded two teams in the Women’s Blue Chip Basketball League, a professional development league for women. This year, she didn’t have enough players for the league.

In the meantime, Moore continues to train players and provide advice for those who need it. She’s helping several begin or extend their careers overseas.

Myla Somerville, a St. Mary’s Ryken graduate, played for the University of the District of Columbia and graduated in 2016. Last month, she went to an international camp in Germany, aiming for a contract.

After taking a little time off from basketball, Somerville said, attending a Washington Mystics game ignited her desire to play professionally. In March, Moore called about the camp.

“She pushes you,” said Somerville, 25. “A lot of times, that’s all it takes. She actually had given me more confidence, which is weird to say, because I’m pretty confident.”

To play overseas, a player needs a profile on one of the professional leagues’ websites, such as eurobasket.com, to show coaches she has more than just a college basketball background. Going to the right camp or combine can give a player that profile, Moore said.

“Not everybody can get lucky with an agent,” she said, “and you can’t keep asking another player for her connections. We don’t want them to do that. We want them to have their own resources.”

Although Carrington, a former All-Metro player at Dundalk who played at Morgan State, had always wanted to play professionally, being in Australia wasn’t easy.

“The first months of transitioning from the U.S. to being all the way across the world away from family and friends is challenging,” said Carrington, 25. “Going into it not knowing what to expect was scary. I stayed in. I was always calling home. Then after a while, I started stepping out of my comfort zone. I started to meet people and get out to go sightseeing. Overall, it turned into an amazing experience.”

Her experience in Switzerland wasn’t quite as good. She had a few problems with her agent and thought her contract could have been better, so she took some time off from basketball after returning home.

Now, Carrington is working with Moore to get a better contract. She plans to attend an international combine in Florida in August.

Like Somerville and Carrington, other local women who’ve played for the Baltimore Cougars Legends, such as Roland Park graduate Daisy Aleaze, Seton Keough graduate Achiri Ade and Patterson graduate Ciarra Webb — also All-Metro players — continue to work with Moore to help younger girls who aspire to play professionally. Some will help with a youth camp Saturday at Cloverdale Park in Baltimore.

Aleaze had wonderful experiences playing in Europe on two teams based in Spain as well as playing for Nigeria in the Women’s AfroBasket league. Although Moore did not help her get overseas, she’s eager to share her experiences.

“It’s really important because everybody has a dream. All they need is an opportunity,” said Aleaze, 23. “If you can help in whatever way, you just have to give back. Tammy’s going to do her job with finding things and I can do my job in the sense of providing something to look forward to or aspire to be like or just give advice or tips on how my time overseas was so they can compare.”

Rogers, an assistant coach at Chesapeake-Baltimore County, is always happy to help her sister with training, fundraising or anything else she needs.

“It’s important to have programs like this,” she said, “because a lot of times, you have a lot of talent in certain areas and they fall by the wayside, because they don’t have any guidance. They just don’t know. They have dreams, but they don’t now how to turn those dreams into plans and those plans into goals and I think programs like this help to do that.”

katherine.dunn@baltsun.com

twitter.com/kdunnsun

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