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Playing The Field: Jaye Two Bears

A Standing Rock Sioux, Two Bears looks to make a mark with the UWM Panthers

Sep. 4, 2015
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Photos courtesy Cody Two Bears
In Playing the Field, we profile women who are making an impact in the world of sports, either in competition or behind the scenes. For this installment, we spoke with Jaye Two Bears, the first reservation-bred Native American to play for the UW-Milwaukee Panthers women’s basketball team, about injury, recovery and representation.

Jaye Two Bears feels like she was born with a basketball in her hands. With two older brothers who were local standouts in the sport, she joined a league at age four and hasn’t really had an interest in other sports since.

A Standing Rock Sioux, Two Bears grew up in the area of North Dakota that’s rife with complications due to a mining boom. When she was a freshman in high school, her family made the decision to leave the reservation and settle in Bismarck. She enrolled in Shiloh Christian School and immediately drew attention. Before her sophomore year, she had interest from four Division I schools. Suddenly she understood that the dreams she had growing up watching the WNBA could become reality.

After a difficult junior year in which she tore her ACL twice, Two Bears has verbally committed to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She will be the first reservation-bred Native American to play for the Panthers.

The journey from impressive freshman to university-bound junior has been a difficult one. Two Bears tore her meniscus and ACL completely in June 2014. Typically, it’s an injury that requires 6-9 months of healing, rehab and recovery.

The time off the court was difficult for Two Bears, especially mentally. Unprepared for how to handle herself when her life was so defined by being on the court, she struggled with sitting on the sidelines while her teammates continued to play. The mental struggle meant that Two Bears pushed her recovery. She convinced herself, her doctors and her coaches that she was ready to play again after just five months.

Initially, it seemed to be the right decision. She played in a game and everything seemed to be fine. But in the very next practice, she jumped for a ball, landed on her left leg and felt everything go wrong again.

The doctors confirmed the re-tear of her ACL with an MRI, but Two Bears said she knew she’d re-damaged her knee as soon as it happened. And she was mad—mostly at herself for pushing to return too quickly.

Now it’s been another long road to recovery. This time, Two Bears was more prepared for the mental struggles of being off the court and much more diligent about her physical recovery and rehabilitation.

But with the second consecutive injury to the same knee, suddenly schools were more skeptical about recruiting her.

“Committing to UWM was a big thing for me,” she says. “I was getting recruited by schools all over the country and after I tore my ACL a second time, some of them shied away and it scared me a lot. I was contemplating waiting or signing with UWM. I went on my visit to Milwaukee and I loved it there. I think it’s every little kid’s dream, to play DI basketball and play in the WNBA,” she said.

Two Bears is part of the first generation of girls who grew up watching the WNBA. They’ve always had female role models to look up to.

“When I was in third grade, Candace Parker was playing in her last college game and ever since then I wanted to be like her,” she recalls. “She was struggling through a shoulder injury and it really inspired me to see how she could play like that and win an NCAA Championship for her team. Growing up I just wanted to be just like her.”

That representation is important to Two Bears. It influenced her as a young player—knowing that she couple aspire to play beyond high school and college. In addition to being a strong female athlete role model, Two Bears takes her role representing her tribe and Native Americans as a whole very seriously.

“It means a lot to me, being a Native American and being able to represent where I come from,” she says. “I want to be a role model for younger kids to show that they can make it—it doesn’t have to even be for sports—just to show them that they can go to college and be successful. You don’t see a lot of natives going to college, going to DI schools, making headlines. It means a lot to me to be able to represent where I come from and represent them well. I’m going to try to represent them as best I can and make everyone back home and where I come from really proud.”

Though she looked up to the players she saw on TV, Two Bears admitted that her older brothers are the most influential role models in her life. She models her game on the court after the best aspect of theirs and her conduct off the court is influenced by how she saw them behave.

“When I was growing up, I had a role model of my two big brothers. They were really successful in basketball and never drank and never did any drugs and that was a big thing for me, too,” she said.

A point guard, Two Bears is known for her crisp passing and vision. She admits that her game is just an amalgam of the best parts of her older brothers’ best skills.

“I’m a pretty good passer,” she says. “I can see the floor really well. People say you can’t teach that, you just kind of just have to have it. That’s one thing I have. That’s my most dominant skill I think ... Both my brothers were point guards. My oldest brother DJ, he was a super duper good passer and my other brother Cody was really good at shooting. I’m good at passing and I’m fairly good at shooting. I think they both just gave me the best aspects of the game. One teaches me shooting and one teaches me about passing and seeing the floor and seeing what a point guard should do, so I think growing up with them on my side just helped me a lot.”

Two Bears will sign a national letter of intent in November and use her senior year to refine her skills and strengthen her knee and her game after her injuries.  

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