How A Disco Ball And Wild Buffalo Helped Send Jaye Dawn Two Bears To Milwaukee
Jaye Dawn Two Bears learned to play basketball in her backyard. She played so often that the grass underfoot would get tamped down, eventually ripping from its roots and leaving behind only dirt, indented by shoe and ball alike.
When the snow came and covered that dirt, which it did every fall and winter in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, Two Bears and her two brothers -- Cody, who is 14 years older, and DJ, 17 years her senior -- would shovel a clearing so they could continue their obsession.
There would be no gloves for the three siblings. No heavy jackets, either. Nothing that would interfere with their ability to play the game they loved.
"I had a court and a ball, and that made me happy," said Jaye Dawn Two Bears, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. "We'd play until late at night. We'd have dinner and go back out. Those are memories I tell and recall all the time."
Gym access near the Standing Rock reservation was limited, and the one indoor facility they could get to periodically was far from perfect.
"They call it 'The Red Gym,' and it has a crack running through the whole middle of the floor," said Two Bears, now a 5-foot-10 senior point guard at Shiloh Christian (Bismarck, North Dakota) who recently signed a national letter of intent to play at Division I Milwaukee.
Two Bears may never have been discovered by Milwaukee or the 60 other colleges that sent her recruitment letters had it not been for Cody, who had played high school basketball and knew his sister's talent was true.
"Jaye always played aggressive," said Cody, 31, who is a council member for the Cannon Ball District of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. "She had a natural ability to see the floor. When she shot, she was successful. It was kind of unexplainable -- when you have that gift, you have it."
Cody sent his sister's highlight video to every coach he could, and that's how Kyle Rechlicz found out about her 2016 recruit.
Rechlicz, a former co-captain for the Wisconsin women's basketball team and an academic All-Big Ten selection, is in her fourth year with the Panthers. Before that, she spent a decade on the coaching staffs at Dayton, Cleveland State and Wisconsin. She has received hundreds, if not thousands, of unsolicited highlight videos, and none of them ever resulted in a signing ... until Two Bears.
"It's very, very rare that you get this," Rechlicz said. "Usually the film you get is of not very talented kids. We pride ourselves on watching every film that comes to us, but 99 percent of them are not at our level."
On the video, Rechlicz noticed Two Bears' length and her ability to get steals, converting them into baskets. Two Bears' joy on the court also was evident -- she exuded passion for basketball.
But there was something else the coach saw: flash.
"I'd rather make a behind-the-back pass than a two-handed chest pass," Two Bears said. "Most of my coaches have been fine with that -- they trust me. They know that when I throw a pass, it's going to get there, and I'm not going to put a turnover at risk."
After Rechlicz saw her highlight tape, she immediately called Cody Two Bears for game tape, and things progressed from there.
Jaye Dawn said she knew she would play for Milwaukee from her first phone conversation with Rechlicz -- the connection was instantaneous.
There were other offers -- Texas Tech, Northern Colorado, North Dakota State and North Dakota -- but Two Bears loved the way the Milwaukee coaching staff stayed with her even after she suffered two ACL injuries on her left knee in 2014.
In July, Two Bears and her parents -- Don and Carmen -- took an official visit to the Milwaukee campus. They flew to Chicago, where an assistant coach picked them up in Rechlicz's car.
The car, a white Chevrolet Equinox, was covered in black and yellow Milwaukee Panthers magnets. Inside, there was a silver disco ball that lit up in different colors.
"I thought it was crazy at first," Two Bears said. "But I thought it was awesome that they took the time to decorate just to make me happy."
I had a court and a ball, and that made me happy.Jaye Dawn Two Bears
Two Bears loved the Milwaukee campus, she was thrilled that it had a Native American Center with tons of resources to help students, and she felt very welcomed by the Panthers players.
During dinner at Rechlicz's house, Two Bears and the players had a far-ranging conversation.
"One player asked a question that I thought was kind of funny," Two Bears said. "She said: 'Do we have houses on the reservation?'
"I told her, 'No, we don't live in teepees.'
"Another player wanted to know if you had to have a passport to enter the reservation. At first, I didn't know if they were serious. But it didn't bother me. They wanted to know where I'm from -- they were curious. I guess educating people is part of what I have to do -- it was a learning experience for me, too."
Alexis Lindstrom, a 5-foot-7 junior guard for the Panthers, said Two Bears was genuine and easy to talk to.
"We got along right away," Lindstrom said. "Our team was very interested in her. We asked her a lot of questions, and we will be interested in having her on our team next year and asking her more questions."
Two Bears said after she committed to the Panthers, the relationship between player, coach and program truly intensified. Rechlicz and her staff decided to visit Two Bears at her reservation -- something both parties very much wanted.
In September, Rechlicz arrived in Bismarck and drove 45 minutes to Standing Rock, where she was welcomed beyond her wildest imagination.
Rechlicz and assistant coach Dan Carey were given colorful star quilts. Rechlicz also was given an eagle plume, another sign of friendship and respect. The coaches were then taken to see where the buffalo roam and got to stand just a few feet away from the majestic animals.
But the biggest honor of all was bestowed upon Rechlicz, who was given an Indian name -- "Waunsila Win" -- which means Compassionate One.
Two Bears' mother, Carmen, said everyone at Standing Rock wanted to show appreciation to the coaches.
"Indians are a giving people," Carmen said. "It gave us a good feeling that they wanted to come. It was a big celebration. It made us feel good that they wanted to see our daughter, to see how she lives. Coming to the reservation -- I don't think too many coaches actually do that."
The crazy part of all of this is that Rechlicz has yet to see Two Bears play in person. Two Bears was hurt when Rechlicz visited her home.
Two Bears got hurt initially during the 2014 AAU season. She made a cut to the middle of the court, felt a pop and went down. Amazingly, Two Bears -- thinking it was just a sprain -- got taped up and played the rest of the tournament. It was only a few days later when doctors told her she had torn her ACL.
Two Bears was told that the recovery time for the injury would be six to nine months. Instead, she came back in five.
"Jaye's a tough girl," Carmen said.
Too tough, as it turns out. She rushed back too soon and got hurt again. Now she's being a bit more cautious and is hoping to return in January.
Rechlicz, meanwhile, has booked a return to North Dakota in February, when she hopes to finally get to see her standout recruit play.
"The first time I went to see her, it was a life-changing experience," Rechlicz said. "I can hardly wait to go back."