Whether she knew it or not, Lindsey Harding started breaking down barriers when she was a standout guard at Cy-Fair High School in the early 2000s.
Her coach, Ann Roubique, needed to find ways to challenge Harding’s team so she brought in members of the boys team to go up against them in practice.
“I had to do something,” Roubique called. “She was too good.”
Cy-Fair girls basketball would grow into a powerhouse and go on to win a couple of state titles and Harding would be the first of three No. 1 WNBA draft picks (Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike) from the school.
Now, almost two decades later, she’s continuing to blaze trails — this time as an NBA scout. The 76ers hired her last week.
She’s been a star on the court for years and now she will get a chance to do it off the court.
“It’s an opportunity that presented itself so I went for it,” Harding said in a phone interview Monday from Nigeria, where she is running a Giants of Africa camp.
Harding spent last year — her first after retiring from the WNBA — in the NBA’s Basketball Operations Associates program. She wanted to learn the ins and outs of the league and continue to make a career out of basketball.
She didn’t know exactly where it would take her.
“I wanted my foot in the door,” she said. “This is a great way for me to see another side of the league, to network, to meet people. I’m excited for it.”
Harding is the next in a line of women who are making their marks in the NBA.
From assistant coaches Becky Hammon in San Antonio and Jenny Boucek in Dallas to women in front office roles like Tamika Catchings, the director of player programs in Indianapolis, women are taking on more roles in the NBA.
A handful of teams, including the Rockets, have employed female scouts. There aren’t many that are full-time, but it is becoming more common and more acceptable.
Harding doesn’t spend much time thinking about how she is one of few women with one of these coveted positions.
She continues to break barriers, but doesn’t look at things that way.
“You have to talk about it some because we are still are breaking them in society with race and gender, she said. “For me, I think more about it like this: Since there aren’t many of us, we have to hit it out of the park. We have to be great at what we are doing.”
Harding will be great.
She has been every step of the way in her basketball career.
After high school at Cy-Fair, she went to Duke where she finished her career with 1,298 points, 565 rebounds and 579 assists. She will be inducted into the Duke Hall of Fame this fall.
She was the first pick in the 2007 WNBA draft. In nine seasons in the league, she averaged 9.8 points and 4.0 assists per game. She also played professionally in Russia and Turkey.
“She’s been successful everywhere she’s been,” Roubique said. “She knows what it takes to play at a high level and to handle the grind. She’s going to be a terrific scout.”
That’s why she was hired.
She went through a lengthy interview during Summer League before being offered the job.
Throughout, she remained confident. She never let the antiquated idea that a woman might not be as qualified enter her mind.
“I talked to people from the coaching staff to the front office,” she said. “My experience, the excitement level I had, I think that’s what mattered.
“They know I know basketball.”
She knows the sport. She’s excelled at it for years. Now she needs to learn the ins and outs of the business.
Harding knows that this year will be a lot about gaining that knowledge. She plans to ask a lot of questions and take in as much as possible.
And just like with everything else she’s done, she plans to put in maximum effort and excel.
“I’ve always worked hard at every opportunity I’ve had,” she said. “I’m excited for this one.”
Harding will get to work soon. Right now, she’s traveing through Africa and working basketball camps. The group she’s working with added girls camps last year. This year, they tripled the number of those. Harding runs the girls side of the camps, which do a lot of co-ed drills and practices.
She’s a long way from the gym at Cy-Fair High School, but she’s still setting a strong tone for the young women who will come after her.