Nevada Wolf Pack’s Tahnee Robinson continues to change the game of basketball
This story was first published in the June 2017 edition of First Nation’s Focus.
RENO, Nev. — Tahnee Robinson is no stranger to the basketball spotlight.
From being a four-time All-State high school player to becoming the first-ever Native American drafted into the WNBA, Robinson has always had a passion for the game.
Now, the 29-year-old member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe is taking the next step in the sport after being promoted June 1 to director of player development for the women’s basketball program at her alma mater, University of Nevada, Reno.
For Robinson, who grew up in a sports family on the Wind River Reservation in Fort Washakie, Wyoming, basketball has always played a vital role in her life.
“I love basketball,” Robinson said during an early June interview with First Nation’s Focus. “It’s one of the sports in my family where even if you’re not good at it, you’re still going to play it.”
And play it, she has. In high school, Robinson led her team to win the Class 3A State title in 2006, and signed her letter of intent to play at the University of Wyoming.
Things were going great for Robinson. She was a star athlete and role model for Native youth across the state.
But life had other plans for her. Just before the basketball season started, Robinson found out she was pregnant. Her world turned upside down, so she returned home to raise her son, Julius Jeffrey, who is now 9 years old.
Robinson had thought her playing days were over, but a couple weeks after Julius Jeffrey was born, she was back on the court playing pickup games.
Soon she was offered a second chance to play basketball at the collegiate level by coach Frank McCarthy at Sheridan College.
“My first year was a struggle,” said Robinson. “Motherhood is one of the biggest changes in the history of life. I was a new person. I wasn’t the same basketball player anymore; everything changed.”
MAKING THE MOVE TO NEVADA
While the transition from star basketball player to single mother who played basketball was challenging, Robinson said it motivated her to do better — not only for herself, but also for her son.
Robinson would go on to play two years for Sheridan College, where she became the leading scorer in the nation for National Junior College Athletic Association schools, averaging nearly 30 points per game (PPG).
Leading her team to their first-ever appearance at Nationals in 2009, Robinson gained a lot of attention from four-year universities.
After much debate, and not wanting to stray too far from home and her son, Robinson decided to enroll at UNR prior to the 2009-10 season to play under then-Wolf Pack coach Jane Albright.
In her two seasons in Reno, she gained an impressive resume, becoming one of Nevada’s 12 1,000-point scorers while averaging 19.5 points per game.
She also was named the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Newcomer of the Year for 2009-10, was a two-time All-WAC first team honoree, and finished ninth in the nation for scoring during the 2010-11 season.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in General Studies in 2011, Robinson was drafted to the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, becoming not only Nevada’s first-ever selection, but also the first-ever Native American to be drafted into the WNBA.
MORE THAN JUST BASKETBALL
Since being drafted, she played four seasons of professional basketball overseas in countries such as Israel, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Poland and China, before eventually suffering an injury.
“After I got hurt I started thinking I needed to find a job and be stable; basketball isn’t going to be there forever,” said Robinson. “That’s when Jane took me under her wing again and said she had a position open for me if that was what I wanted.”
Taking Coach Albright up on her offer, Robinson returned to UNR in 2015 as a graduate assistant for the Wolf Pack.
She also enrolled in the university’s educational leadership program, where she earned her master’s degree this May, shortly before she was promoted to director of player development for Nevada.
“Tahnee will be a great asset to our staff,” said current head coach Amanda Levens. “Her competitive nature and love for the game that allowed her to be a great player both at Nevada and professionally will carry over to her new position.”
When asked how she feels about her new position, Robinson had a lot to say.
“It is just so awesome and exciting … There is just so much that goes on in one program that it could be overwhelming at times, but at the end of the day, I can’t think of doing anything differently,” she said. “My love for basketball has brought me to where I’m at, and I can’t see myself doing anything else as passionately as I do, than what I do with this sport.”
Robinson is not only an inspiration in Indian Country for being an amazing athlete — she had done much more by showing how important an education is.
“Since I can’t play anymore and inspire people in that way, I hope I can help inspire people to do other things,” said Robinson, referring to her recent master’s degree. “I used to feel like all I had to offer was being an athlete, but now I think it shows me in a different light. It shows people that you don’t necessarily need to be an athlete to make a difference.”
Jarrette Werk (Aaniiih) is a journalism student at the University of Nevada, Reno, who worked this summer for the Sierra Nevada Media Group as an intern, writing and taking photos for First Nation’s Focus.
I am over the moon with how strong our school-community relationship is, how easy it was to grow, and surprised by the willingness of my community, students and parents alike, to move in this direction too.