Throughout the summer, NAU Athletics will take a look back and catch up with former Lumberjack women's basketball players in a Where Are They Now series.
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – During her Lumberjack playing career, Laura Dinkins was relentless as one of the program's premier defensive stalwarts. Her drive was matched by few and it led her to not only an accomplished collegiate career, but a successful professional career overseas.
Although Dinkins' playing days are over, her passion for the game of basketball has led her into the coaching world where she has become one of the West Coast's brightest Division I assistant coaches. Dinkins always knew coaching was the path she wanted to take, and fortunately her former coach at NAU, Laurie Kelly, opened the door to what has been a road well-traveled since.
"Laurie called me when I was overseas in Germany and told me she had a coaching position open for me (at NAU) if I was interested," Dinkins said. "She's always known that I wanted to be a coach at some point in my life and she presented me with the first opportunity to start my career in the profession. I will forever be grateful to Laurie for having the confidence in me that I would excel in this profession and taking a risk being that I had no prior coaching experience."
Following a widely successful two-year professional career in the Netherlands and Germany, Dinkins got her coaching start at her alma mater under the tutelage of Kelly and spent two seasons on the Lumberjack staff. She worked with the NAU guards and assisted in all facets including recruiting, scouting and academic mentoring before moving on to Big Sky foe Idaho State to join the Bengals' staff under Seton Sobolewski, also an NAU graduate and Flagstaff native.
Dinkins spent the last two seasons in Pocatello, Idaho and helped guide the Bengals to a WNIT appearance in her first season. She coached four players to All-Big Sky honors as it was becoming clearer that Dinkins was a rising star in the profession. Then when Jaime White – a familiar face in the Big Sky Conference as the former head coach at Northern Colorado – was hired as the head coach at Fresno State, she knew Dinkins would be a vital addition on the new staff.
For Dinkins, a Rialto, Calif. native just three and a half hours away from Fresno, it was the perfect opportunity to get back home and join a program that has reached the NCAA Tournament seven consecutive years, tied for the 14th-longest active streak in the nation.
"It feels great to be home and I couldn't be more excited for this opportunity that our athletic director Thomas Boeh and Jaime White have given me," Dinkins said. "I'm excited to be a part of a program that has so much tradition, pride and success. This opportunity is everything I've ever dreamed of."
Dinkins brings some championship pedigree of her own to Fresno State, as she was a pivotal member of NAU's 2005-06 Big Sky Championship team. She overcame a preseason ACL injury – her second after suffering an ACL tear to her other knee in high school – prior to the start of her sophomore season to enjoy a stellar Lumberjack career in which she averaged 8.1 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Her tenacious defense and overall athleticism was always on full display and garnered her Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2007 and an All-Big Sky Second Team selection in 2008.
She is currently third in the NAU record books in career rebounds with 714 and she finished just shy of the 1,000 point mark with 970 career points. Her senior season total of 252 rebounds remains the second-best single season rebound total and her 1,144 minutes played as a senior is still a school record.
"My experience at Northern Arizona was amazing because Laurie Kelly and my teammates made it memorable," Dinkins said. "Coach Kelly's relationships with her players extended far beyond the basketball court and she genuinely cared about every one of us as a person. Winning the championship and advancing to the NCAA Tournament with the group of young ladies that I still keep in contact with today is something I'll never forget. My teammates will always be an extension of my immediate family."
After initial professional success with the Perik Jumpers in the Netherlands, Dinkins moved to Germany where she was a member of the Chem Cats. She helped her team win the Division II Championship and was the leading scorer and captain on both of her professional squads during an experience overseas that wouldn't have been possible without basketball.
Able to cross her experience off her bucket list, the call from her former coach followed and Dinkins has hit the ground running in the coaching profession since.
"I've had the opportunity to work under some great mentors in Laurie Kelly, Seton Sobolewski and currently Jaime White," Dinkins said. "I've learned new coaching styles, philosophies and different leadership styles from coaches who have all had success in their careers."
No matter where Dinkins' journey as a coach takes her, she will always be rooting on her Lumberjacks, a program she not only made a name for herself as a player but where she got her start in coaching.
"Even though I was at Idaho State, my heart was with my alma mater Northern Arizona," Dinkins said. "I have so much pride for NAU that even coaching against the Lumberjacks was tough. I always want to see the 'Jacks come out on top and it's great to see that they're headed in the right direction. They've been doing a tremendous job recruiting. Every year they get more athletic and skilled and they're going to do great things in the conference this season."