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Q&A with Rising Women’s Basketball Star T.J. Manson

Indian Country Today Media Network sits down with Navajo basketball star TJ Manson, a well-rounded Native American student.

Navajo Tanishia (T.J.) Manson has proven she has the right “basketball” stuff. While attending Page High School in Page, Arizona, she was a three-time All-Region selection and Regional “Most Valuable Player” and led the school to the state playoffs four years in a row. As a two-year starter at Arizona Western Junior College in Yuma, she earned All-Conference and All-Region selection and in 2010 was selected as “Freshman of the Year” for her consistency as a defender, rebounder and scorer.

Now 20 years old and a junior, the 6’2”, soft-spoken Manson transferred to Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, this year and is looking forward to continuing to prove what she is made of with her new team, the Bearkats. Just before the season kicked off this month, Manson talked with ICTMN about how basketball helped her stay on the right path, her college career and what she plans to do when she graduates.

How did basketball help you in high school? Honestly, I had no intention of playing basketball. My mom forced me into it. As the years went on, like in my freshman year, I started to get into it a little bit more. I honestly didn’t expect to be, like, known for it around the reservation and Page and the Flagstaff area. But I have been given so many opportunities. We have even been to Hawaii, Florida. We have traveled everywhere for basketball, and I got a lot of exposure that way. It wasn’t until my sophomore/junior years that I wanted to play basketball in college. That’s when I started getting letters of interest. Ever since then, it’s just like, okay, this is what I want to do—and I have been doing it ever since.

Did it help you stay on the right path? Yeah, it did. In middle school, I got in trouble. I did not have my priorities straight at all…just slip-ups, like not getting good grades and stuff. In middle school, [it] really discouraged me from wanting to go to college after high school. Once I started playing basketball in high school, I had to keep my grades up.

Why did you pick Arizona Western? It was a last-minute thing. I wasn’t sure because I did get an offer from UNLV [University of Nevada, Las Vegas]. They wanted me to sign during volleyball season [a sport she is lettered in] in my senior year. I didn’t want to because I wanted to see if I could get any other offers. So, I was thinking about it and I talked to my coach, Coach Anderson. I was talking to him about schools and stuff. He told me, “Well, if you go to UNLV right out of high school, you probably won’t get as much prime time as you will in a junior college.” I thought about that. I said, okay, I can go to junior college, play as much as I want there for two years and then go to a bigger school and get prime time as a junior and senior.

This year you transferred to Sam Houston—what brought you there? Our assistant coach the past two years in Yuma, he is friends with the head coach here, Coach Nichols. He was telling me about the school. The summer before last year, I went to Florida for an all-star game, she came out and I got to meet with her. And she was really nice. She is very family-oriented, which is important to me because I miss my family so much. That was one thing I was looking for in a school—a team that’s family based and hangs out a lot with each other. I got to talking with her, and she told me more about the school and the team. By summer, I had called her up and asked if they still had spots available. And she’s like, “Yeah, we do.” So, I told her I was interested. I came out here and like it a lot. It’s really nice out here. The only thing I really could not get used to is the humidity, the weather.

What are you majoring in? I am majoring in kinesiology and minoring in health.

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T.J. Manson during a game against the Muskegon Jayhawks when she played for the Arizona Western College Matadors.

How much of a juggle is studying and playing hoops? At Arizona Western, it was pretty easy. We really didn’t have many meetings set up or anything. But when I got here, the classes are harder. There’s a lot more people, so it’s hard to get the time in with the professors that you need. You need to schedule around their office hours. And we are constantly doing stuff with the community, like going to talk with elementary kids. On top of that, we have practice and weights. It’s pretty hard. You have to prioritize a lot. Sometimes it’s to the point where you don’t get to go out and have fun.

How are you doing academically? I’m doing pretty well. I would say about three weeks apart we have grade checks. If we are not doing so well, we’ll get tutors. If we’re doing okay, we really don’t have to worry about it.

What subject do you excel in? Well, I usually excel in math, but I’m not taking a math class this semester. So, right now it would have to be English.

Which one do you really have to work at? I would say history, just because there are so many dates and so many different events. It’s just hard to get it all at once.

How's it going with the new team? It’s going good. It took a while to get used to. It’s a lot different than my old team. I do miss my team from the last two years. But as far as playing and stuff, it’s not very different.

What do plan to do once you graduate? Honestly, I have not thought about that. I told my mom this the other day: I can’t see myself without basketball. I guess I’ve known this since third grade. If I get a chance to play overseas, I want to take it, but if not, then tryout for a team. If that doesn’t work out, then I want to go into sports medicine/physical therapy. I’m trying to stay around the sport as much as I can.

You have a younger sister, Nicole, who is following in your basketball shoes. What's she up to now? She is playing for South Mountain Community College in Phoenix, Arizona. She’s excited. She likes practice. I talk to her, like, every day, and she tells me how much she likes her school and her team. She hangs out with her teammates a lot, which is kind of difficult because the community colleges in Phoenix don’t have dorms.

Is she as passionate about the sport as you are? Yes, she is. She has it in her. I think we both do. It’s kind of in our blood. Basketball is what we grew up doing, it's what we know. All my cousins played, my aunts and uncles, my mom and my dad, well he was a wrestler, but after everything he's done to keep us playing, he loves it just as much as we do.