The slogan for the Nike N7 Sports Summit in 2013 challenged Native communities to “Define Tomorrow.” N7 ambassador Tahnee Robinson has done just that with every step she’s taken, defining her tomorrows by making the best of what she has today.
In a career that spans from being a McDonald’s High School All-American to playing professionally overseas in Israel and Bulgaria, Robinson held herself accountable. Now, the 27-yeaar-old has come full circle to her alma mater at the University of Nevada-Reno. She will pursue her master’s degree in educational leadership and join the Wolf Pack women’s basketball coaching staff as a graduate assistant.
It seems only fitting that the first Native American drafted by the WNBA is now one of three Native women coaching at the NCAA Division I level. She will learn from the best. Wolf Pack head coach Jane Albright (496) goes after her 500th career win this season. “We are so excited to have her back with us and looking forward to the influence she will have,” Albright told ICTMN. “I am excited she’s chosen to pursue her master’s degree and start down the career path to coaching. She will be involved in individual skill workouts, on campus recruiting, team practices, film breakdown, and other various aspects of our program. A few weeks ago, she did a clinic for the Native Americans in Carson City (Nev.), so I expect her impact to be huge for the Natives in our region.”
As a player, Robinson took the Western Athletic Conference by storm. She was named the WAC Newcomer of the Year (2010) and a two-time All-WAC first team selection, averaging 19.5 points a game en route to becoming one of Nevada’s (12) 1,000-point scorers. She’s ready to turn the page from player to coach and welcomes the new challenges. “I think I bring a good overview of basketball and just want to help the girls and the team do as well as they can this year,” Robinson told ICTMN. “When the team is successful, so am I.”
Data published by the NCAA on the race and ethnicity of its student-athletes reveals that 0.5 percent of women’s basketball players in all divisions during the 2013-14 academic year were American Indian or Alaskan Native. In Division I programs, that total translates to just 28 women out of 4,972 participants. Native women have made significant strides at the Division I level over the past 20 years with the success of players like Ryneldi Becenti (Arizona State), Robinson (Nevada-Reno), Angel Goodrich (Kansas), Shoni Schimmel (Louisville), Jude Schimmel (Louisville) and Tesha Buck (University of Wisconsin-Green Bay). “I think we are seeing a lot more success with Native women playing at this level, but there can always be more,” said Robinson, is proudly enrolled with the Northern Cheyenne Tribe in Montana and is Eastern Shoshone, Pawnee and Sioux. “We can never be too satisfied. It’s a dog eat dog world, so you have to separate yourself from the pack. I tell the young ladies and men to be a great student first. Be aware of the people you surround yourself with. Are they the kind of friend that will be there when you need them? You have to want to be the best on a daily basis to be successful.”
Robinson got a little taste of what working with elite players is like this past summer when she coached Team Wyoming against Montana in the annual All-Native All-Star Game at Crow Agency. In that coaching experience, she had to figure out ways to stop Montana all-star MorningRose Tobey from Billings West. At Reno, she’ll factor into Tobey’s growth in the Wolf Pack program where she will also be a mentor of sorts for the young Native woman as she makes her way from the reservation to Division I basketball.
“I have known Morning for a long time now. Our families are really close, so I’ve watched and supported her through her career,” Robinson explained. “For me, there were a lot of challenges at first. One of the hardest challenges was just leaving my home and family. I lived in Wyoming my whole life. So when I came to UNR, it was so scary. I felt alone and didn’t make friends very quickly. I was pretty shy, so it was a hard transition. But once you get used to your surroundings you realize that it’s not so scary anymore. It’s just different, but you learn to deal with those differences. I also had a great support system from all my family back at home encouraging me daily and never allowing me to give up on myself. I also had a great support system here at UNR from the coaching staff. I intend to be there for her, all the girls for that matter, even if she just needs someone to talk to.”
Basketball is vehicle, but Tahnee Robinson is so much more than just a ball player. She is a Nike N7 basketball ambassador and the national spokeswoman for “Let’s Move! In Indian Country,” a Michelle Obama, health initiative. She’s also the national spokeswoman for Big Brothers & Big Sisters. She graduated from Sheridan College with an Associate of Science Degree in General Studies and received her Bachelor of Science Degree in General Studies with emphasis in Health Education, Communication and Native American Studies at Nevada-Reno. Now, she is pursuing her master’s degree.
It has been a good journey from the Wind River reservation to a professional career in Europe. Now she’s ready to turn the page and see what’s next in Division I college coaching.