After the conclusion of the trial the following team was selected to represent Australia:
Georgia-Rose Brown (Victorian Institute of Sport)
Larrissa Miller (Victorian Institute of Sport / Waverley Gymnastics Centre)
Lauren Mitchell (Western Australian Institute of Sport)
Mary-Anne Monckton (Victorian Institute of Sport)
Kiara Munteanu (Victorian Institute of Sport)
Emma Jane Nedov (Sydney Gymnastics & Aquatic Centre)
Olivia Vivian (Western Australian Institute of Sport)
Emily Little (Western Australian Institute of Sport)
Q: Your childhood was a little more worldly than most, correct?
A: “When I was born, my parents were overseas in Japan. They came back so I could be born in the United States. I went back over there when I was like 11 days old, or something like that, so I was on a long flight pretty early. I lived there until I was about four and a half. I grew up, made friends, and naturally as a kid, I began speaking Japanese because everyone around me would speak to me in Japanese. I would pick up on that. When I came back to the U.S. and started school (about five or six years old), my mom put me in a Japanese boarding school and I went there until fifth grade. That was just Japanese all day. We had one hour of English a day, but that’s not much. I got to the point where I was better at Japanese than English. That’s when my mom decided to put me back in Japan for middle school, and I studied there for about a year-and-a-half in a small town. She decided to move away from Tokyo, so I had to be immersed. We moved to a small traditional town with no Americans and almost no English. There were some struggles but we made it through.”
Q: The first time you lived there, your dad was playing professional basketball in Tokyo, the second time around was much different. Which was an “easier” style of living for Americans living in Japan?
A: “We were around a lot of American tourists and everything is translated (to English) in Tokyo. The second time I lived there, we went down south into a town maybe the size of Lawrence – just very traditional Japanese. It’s called Fukui.”
Q: How did elementary school in the U.S. compare to public school in Japan?
A: “It was different. The way they do things is extremely different; it took a while to catch on. That was hard because of how traditional everyone was. People were really set on doing things there way and it took a couple months to get used to. Once I did, it was good. I thought about staying for high school, because they start at seventh grade there, but I really liked basketball. I decided it would be better to come back.”
Q: When you came back to the U.S. for middle school, what was that experience like?
A: “When I came back for the second time, it was my first time in public school. It was different because, when I came back after all speaking Japanese for so long, I needed some speech classes and I had some problems adjusting to English. I grew up with Japanese teachers my whole life and now I was going to an English public school. It was almost like I was a foreigner here. I went to seventh and eighth grade here, which was a struggle, but when I got to high school, it was all good.”
Q: Did you actually feel more Japanese than American?
A: “That’s funny because when I was younger, I always told people I was Japanese. Then when I came back here it was hard. When I was there (Japan) it was weird because I didn’t really know anything, but when I came back (U.S.) I didn’t know where I fit in for a while. Eventually I got through some things and did fine here. It was a weird adjustment going back-and-forth.”
Q: Did you stand out in Japan, being a black, tall guy?
A: “Over there it was different. Besides my height, I want to say I fit in more so than my mom. She had blonde hair and the people over there have a little bit darker skin. I still stood out a lot, but my mom did more. It was weird because people would just look at us funny when we were together, but they didn’t realize I spent most of my life growing up in Japan. It was also weird being looked at as a foreigner, when it felt like we were there for a long time. Coming back to America, they expected me to act a certain way, because other people thought I had grown up in America. It’s strange how the expectations changed. They expected me to act as a foreigner in Japan when I was comfortable there, but when I came back to America they expected me to act normal. I was just new to the whole situation.”
Q: What were some cultural adjustments you had to make in Japan?
A: “You had to take your shoes off and put on these other shoes you wear in class, like little slippers. There’s a lot of small things, one of them is really shocking to me but I kind of understand it. I went to school there for a while, and eventually, some kids tried to pick fights with me. This is in the sixth grade. I was getting pretty old, so I was pretty big. There were other kids in the school that were pretty big, too. I don’t know what it was, but I would piss them off, and they would come up to me and fight me. The first couple times I wouldn’t fight back because the last thing I wanted was to get kicked out of school. I’m thinking about how here in America if you throw a punch you have to deal with the consequences. I was looking at the teachers and these kids weren’t getting in trouble and I was confused. One day my mom noticed that I had gotten beat up. She started questioning me about what’s going on, and so we went to the principle and found out that fighting was allowed in schools to eliminate the possibility of someone building up anger and bringing guns to school. If you have a problem, as long as it stays controlled, it was okay. It’s almost like hockey rules. I was really surprised by that, but once they gave me the permission, it took probably two more fights before I hit back. But I thought it was interesting how those guys don’t hold grudges at all. If they had a problem, they would express it and they would move on. I don’t know if this was traditional to that small town or overall schooling in Japan. But you never really hear about mass shootings over there, maybe they’ve got something going for them.”
Q: Which culture was more accepting? Moving to Japan? Or moving to America?
A: “It’s definitely harder in America to get accepted. Mainly because of the expectations. They expected a certain thing. In Japan, they expected me to be dumb and then I surprised them in a good way. Here they expected me to be more normal, but when I didn’t really understand things it was a bad thing. It probably took a little longer to adjust here.”
Q: So you really felt more like a foreigner in America?
A: “I definitely did. It was weird and it was hard, especially when you’re going through that awkward phase in life when you don’t understand certain things. I was definitely struggling and I’m obviously happy with my decisions now. I’m glad it all worked out in the end, and I’ve learned a lot from it.”
Q: Was basketball the reason behind your decision to move back?
A: “Yeah. I still wasn’t great at basketball when I was making that decision, but I wanted to play at a high level, at least in high school. I didn’t know how far it would take me, though. Watching my dad grow up playing, I just figured it would fun to come to America and play. When I was looking at high schools in Japan, they all had basketball teams that were trying to get me to come play, but it just didn’t feel the same. I decided to come back and I’m happy with that decision. At the end of the day, I didn’t have the slightest idea that basketball would take me this far, but I’m glad I made that choice.”
Q: Did basketball help make the adjustment to the U.S easier?
A: “Being on a team is hard, too. That’s just a new thing (how often you’re around those guys). But, the basketball itself definitely helped me. Once I got to high school it was different. Middle school, you’re playing on different club teams instead of representing your school. People didn’t understand what you were doing. Once I got to high school, my freshman year, I was on varsity and doing well. That’s when it probably when it helped me a lot more than anything. People heard my story a little more and I was adjusting easier. My freshman year of high school was way better than middle school. Basketball helped me get through, if I was a normal student it would have been harder.”
Q: Do you still speak fluent Japanese?
A: “I can understand a lot, just by piecing together what I know. Speaking, I probably know as much as I did comparing to my third-grade year of Japanese. It’s frustrating because I spent so much time learning and understanding it. I see things and I know them, but the reading and writing part is hard to keep up with. Speaking and understanding, I lost some basics, proper grammar, but I’m better with that. If I went back I would make it through. I could communicate, but not at the fluency I once had when I lived there. I still know a good amount, plus I study here to get back to basics. I understand most of the stuff that’s going on. It’s good to start again here (in his classes) and learn the basic parameters because personally, most the stuff I learned came from just being over there.”
Q: What team did your dad play for?
A: “He played college for Oregon and then he played a year in the NBA with the Blazers and Supersonics. Eventually, he found out he was a little too short. He’s Jamari’s (Traylor) height, but plays center. So they tried to make him a ‘3’ in the NBA, and he’s just not that player. So then he went to Austria, he finished in Japan. When he played in Tokyo, for this team in Tokyo called the Japan Energy.”
Q: Did your parents speak Japanese to you when you were home?
A: “My dad only knew basketball terms. My mom only knew shopping terms, so I knew more than they did because I was using it a lot more. The second time I went back, my mom didn’t know much at all. So, I remember there was a work-related problem where we had to go to court, I don’t remember exactly, but it was something that was really formal. There were no translators in the city that could translate English, which is just weird. So I had to go and be her translator for her. So, I real nervous, but my mom only knew “set a ball screen,” “cut to the hoop,” and “dunk the ball.” Basketball terms. They really don’t know much. They didn’t speak much to me at home, but I always did around my friends. Families in Japan are always hanging out with each other. They would speak in English because most of the families knew English. (They were my dad’s teammates). I would speak to the kids in Japanese because all they knew was Japanese. So I ended up being better than my parents.”
Q: Do you still have friends over there?
A: “I do. I skype with them every now-and-then. I can practice my Japanese this way and It’s cool because they try to practice English with me.”
Q: Yes, your dad is
Danny Manning and he is one of the all-time best players to ever play at
Kansas… but you are Evan. Do you ever get to feel like your own person?
A: “You get some
tweets out there like, ‘Hey Evan, why can’t you be more like your dad?’ There
aren’t many people out there that can be him and put up some of those stats.
You learn to let those things be water off your back. On this team, no one
looks at me as Danny Manning’s son. I’m Evan Manning. That’s how it is with all
my friends. If I’m friends with you, I’m friends with you, it’s not because of
who my dad is. He’s a great dude. I love him to death, but I’m trying to be my
own person and he respects that. He knows that it’s tough, we’ve talked about
that before. He has said, ‘I know it must suck having to sometimes be in the
shadow,’ but I don’t see it like that at all. My dad has helped me get my foot
in a lot of doors, but he always says it’s my job to open the door completely.
That’s one of the things I’ve taken with me in life.”
Q: Did you feel
pressure to come to KU?
A: “When I was
choosing what school to go to, he was going to Tulsa (as the new head coach). I
was having a really tough time of what to do. He wanted me to come play for
him, but I’ve always dreamt of playing basketball at Kansas. It got to the
point where I had to say, ‘Dad, I think I want to go to Kansas.’ He told me
that it would be awesome, KU is an awesome school. He said, ‘I went there, I
would know. Everything about it is great.’ He was supportive the whole time. He
never pressured me once. When I decided to only play basketball, he said,
‘That’s great, but you’ll have to work really hard at it every day.’ That’s the
most pressure he’s ever put on me. He told me I needed to put up a couple
hundred shots a day if I wanted to get better. He’s led me in the right
direction, but he’s never pressured me.”
Q: When you had to
tell your dad you weren’t going with him to Tulsa, that had to be hard on you.
Did it make it any easier on him knowing that you’d be in good hands with Coach
A: “It did. I
remember the first time I met Coach Self. He had just gotten the job and my dad
was in the interview process. They had dinner at our house, so Tyler (Self)
came over, too, and we all hung out. That was a cool moment. My dad holds Coach
Self in the highest regard. So if there was another school to go to besides
Tulsa, it would definitely be Kansas. They do a great job of helping young guys
turn into men. That’s something they take great pride in and so do I, that’s
why I came to Kansas.”
Q: Long before you
were picking schools, you were growing up in an NBA household. What was your
A: “It was
different, but it was cool. We moved around so much. We lived in six different
states depending on where my dad was playing, but my home base was always in
Lawrence. We would come back for the summers and my dad would work out at KU.
It was unique, but I learned a lot. I became really close with my sister
(Taylor), she’s been my best friend forever because we were all we had. It gave
me – well, not really a worldly sense – but I can understand what it’s like to
move around a lot.”
Q: Did you change
schools each time your dad changed teams?
A: “There was a
stretch of four years where I think I was in four or five different schools. We
started out in Phoenix and then we moved when I was in first grade. From then
on, up until my dad retired, it was usually one school each year. The first
quarter of that year would always be in Lawrence. So, I would have all my
Lawrence friends and then I would go and finish off the year in Utah or
Milwaukee, somewhere like that.”
Q: Was it tough to
always be the “new kid”?
A: “Yeah, it sucks.
It’s terrible. You don’t know what to expect. My sister was older so it was
tougher for her. I was one of the young kids so there weren’t cliques yet. She
got the worst of that. For me, it was one of those situations where whoever you
sit next to that month is your best friend.”
Q: Of course moving
that often is difficult, but was it better to move around with your dad rather
than the alternative of not seeing him?
A: “We did get to
move with him most of the time, until his last year in the NBA. He was playing
with the Detroit Pistons, but he didn’t get picked up until halfway through the
season. We ended up staying in Lawrence, while my dad stayed in a hotel in
Detroit. We would go out there and see him whenever we could, but that was
hard. I can’t imagine not being in the same house with my dad all the time.
That would’ve been really hard on my mom, too. So I have a lot of respect for
families that did have to do that.”
Q: Speaking of
respect, how much do you respect your mom, Julie Manning, for her effort to
still make your childhood “normal”?
A: “My mom is the
best. She always has a positive outlook on everything. My dad was gone a lot,
and I know she struggled with that at times, but we would never be able to
tell. My grandparents were around a lot, too. They were awesome and they gave
my mom some breaks, which she really deserved because we were a handful. She
Q: Did your parents
ever have to endure ignorance from others because of being an interracial
A: “That might have
been something they had to deal with, but they never wanted us to see that side
of it. I know there were a few situations where things were said, but my mom and
dad were really good about not letting that stuff get to them. They taught us
that everyone was equal, it doesn’t matter your skin tone. So we grew up with
all different types of people around us. Black people, Asian people, homosexual
people – it didn’t matter, they were just people to us. We never tried to get
into the negative side of those situations, but there were difficult times. I
know when my mom and dad lived in Atlanta, I was really young, but being in the
south and being an interracial couple was tough on them. I think that’s one of
the reasons they got out of there. They didn’t want us to have to deal with
that, but there were also situations where it didn’t affect us, too.”
Q: Do you remember
which grades you moved in?
A: “Well my dad was
traded on my first birthday from L.A.; then we went to Atlanta for maybe half a
year. I started school in Phoenix and we were there for five years. We moved
when I was in first grade, then second grade was in Utah, third grade was in
Dallas. Wait – no, Dallas. Then I think fourth grade was in Lawrence
permanently, but my dad was in Detroit. I might be missing a team, I can’t
remember. I’m sorry.”
Q: Moving that often
would make you have to grow up pretty fast right? Learn to be self-sufficient?
A: “You’ve got to
know how to travel and not be one of those annoying little babies all the time.
My parents were really good about that, very adamant about us being respectful.
We were in public a lot so we learned their idea of the right way to act. We’re
pretty well-mannered, or we’d like to think that.”
Q: Did your
classmates know that the new kid was the son of an NBA star?
A: “The schools we
would go to would usually be recommended to us by other players on the team.
When we were in Utah, I was in second grade and my sister was in class with one
of John Stockton’s kids. So they were friends. My best friend in Phoenix was
Rex Chapman’s son. We were around people in similar situations, so that helped.
When it wasn’t like that, though, literally it was just go to school and then
come home and hang out with Taylor.”
Q: Considering you
were a little kid that traveled a lot and now a grown kid that travels a lot,
do you understand the difficulty involved in raising a family in that
unbelievable. We’re on the road a lot here, but playing professionally you’re
gone for weeks at a time. If you have a child or multiple kids, I can’t imagine
not being around them every day. That’s something my dad had to deal with. It
probably sucked for my mom, too, having to be around us all the time. She
Q: Even as a little
kid, could you tell that life in the NBA was pretty cool?
A: “The coolest
thing I remember was going to Detroit to see my dad play. It was Detroit vs. D.C.
(Washington) and it was halftime, I went back to this family area and was
getting something to eat. I look up and it’s LeBron James. It was his senior
year of high school and he’s got on a Chicago jersey and King James shoes. I
was like, ‘Oh my God,’ and my mom and my sister were like, ‘Who’s that guy?’ I
told he was going to be the best player ever. My mom had her camera in her
purse, so she snapped a picture. That was the coolest moment I remember. That,
or twice I got to wave at M.J. (Michael Jordan) on his bus. My dad was always
the last one out of the lockerroom so if there was someone I wanted to meet, he
would take me to the other lockerroom, but it happened twice. He was a little
late coming out, so we walked over to their lockerroom and they were already on
their bus and taking off, but Jordan still stood up and gave me a wave both
A: “It’s totally different than USA. Over in Europe it’s a different world. It’s just different.”
Q: Since neither of your parents speak English, when did you start?
A: “When I came to school. The English classes started in the first year, so I started learning English when I was seven.”
Q: What do your parents teach?
A: “Mom teaches biology at a high school. My dad, he’s a professor. He teaches history at a University.”
Q: Were you pretty rare in coming to the United States? Did any of your classmates come to the United States?
A: “I know a couple of them went to Canada and just started (going to school) there. For the most part, they go to the closest countries like Poland, Czech Republic, or they stay in Ukraine.”
Q: How many different countries have you played in?
A: “Spain, Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Estonia, Greece, Latvia… there’s a couple more that I don’t remember. I traveled everywhere when I was in the Euro League. We would travel from our country to another country and compete against a same-age team from other cities.”
Q: Obviously the thing that people bring up the most is what it is like in the Ukraine. Do you deal with warfare there a lot? Do people talk about political problems a lot? Is it bad in the Ukraine right now?
A: “I think yeah. Politicians and government will change (things) already. Things are going to be better right now, but us and Russia, we still argue against each other.”
Q: When you are at home, do you feel like you hear about it all the time?
A: “When I’m home, it’s always on the news about something going on in the capital. Right now, it’s about Russia because they put their soldiers in some part of Ukraine. Everything is on the news.”
Q: Is it kind of scary? How close is the capital?
A: “It is two or two-and-a-half hours away. Right now, it’s not in the capital, it’s happening on the border with Russia so it’s far from me. But yeah it’s a little scary because it’s still my country.”
Q: Was it hard for you to leave and come here when you knew things there aren’t good?
A: “It’s hard because I know my parents are in the country, my friends are in the country, and they still stayed there. I have friends in every part of Ukraine and I’m afraid for them and want to know what’s going on with them, and how they’re doing.”
Q: Do you get to talk with them very much?
A: “Every day, I try to talk with them every day.”
Q: Were your parents glad you came to the U.S. and moved far away from that danger?
A: “They want me to get a good education and reach my goals of becoming a professional player. My parents are very glad that I’m here.”
Q: Because of the NBA rules about draft age, are you glad you are required to be in college for more than one year?
A: “In some ways it’s pretty good, because everyone says college is the best years of your life. So it’s pretty cool that I’ll be here for (at least) two years.”
Q: Have you had any moments since you got here to Kansas that have made you say ‘Whoa, I didn’t expect Kansas to be like this’?
A: “I think it’s everything because I didn’t expect the campus to be so good. It’s very beautiful. The fans are really good. The gym is always packed. I’m very excited about all of that.”
Q: Do you ever get lonely here since your family is all back home, and very few people speak Ukrainian here?
A: “I have some people who speak Russian and Ukrainian here, I also have my teammates. We’re like one family.”
Q: Was it harder for you coming here later than everyone else?
A: “Maybe a little bit because everyone knew each other for three or four months while I was a newcomer. It was just a little hard, but I’m okay now.”
Q: Was high school in the Ukraine the same as what we think of in the United States? Like American students go through ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th grades, is it the same there?
A: “You have (the same grade levels), like second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th – but you graduate after 11th grade.”
Q: When people graduate from schools in the Ukraine, do they usually get jobs? Or do they go to college?
A: “Usually they try to go to college because they want to get some kind of education, something like that. For example, a lot of my classmates go to Poland. It’s not very expensive and you can get a good education over there.”
Q: How many languages do you speak?
A: “Three. Ukrainian, English and Russian.”
Q: Which one is easier, Russian or English?
Q: Do you guys drive over there?
A: “No. 18 is the legal driving age.”
Q: Can you drive yet?
Q: Everybody here makes a big deal about you being only 17, but in Ukraine that’s normal, right? To be done with high school at 17?
A: “Yeah everybody is done at 17 or 18. It depends (how old they are) when someone starts school, whether it’s at seven or six or eight. I went to school at six.”
Q: What helped you the most learn English? Being around English speaking people?
A: “School and also when I was playing with my team in Cherkasy. We had some players from America and other countries who also spoke English so this helped me more also.”
Q: Most KU students move to Lawrence and then learn about the college that Lawrence shares a town with, Haskell Indian Nations University. However, you were the other way around. Did you go all four years to Haskell?
A: “My grandparents went to Haskell and my great-grandmother went to Haskell. My grandparents went to Haskell when it was a high school, and my great-grandmother went to Haskell when it was a boarding school. So I have family ties to Haskell. I started at Haskell in Fall of 2011 and then I got my bachelors in Spring of 2014, so I graduated early.”
Q: What tribe do you descend from?
A: “I’m a member of the Sac and Fox Nation. My tribe is the Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska, but there is also a Sac and Fox Nation in Oklahoma and the Meskwaki Nation in Iowa. We’re all the same tribe but we’re different tribal nations. I believe our tribe split up after the Black Hawk War of 1832, when Black Hawk lead our warriors back to the homelands in Saukenuk to reclaim it from the United States. In the U.S. there are 562 federally recognized tribes. So, according to the federal government, the Sac and Fox Nation in Kansas and Nebraska account for one. We’re our own sovereign nation – sovereign used lightly. We have our own tribal governments. I’m sure somewhere down the line we share blood with tribal members who belong to the Meskwaki Nation and Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma in some way.”
Q: What is it like growing up as a member of a Tribal Nation?
A: “My story may be a little different from other Native American students, but my father was born on the reservation. In the 1950’s there was an act called the Indian Relocation Act. It took tribal people and families who lived on reservations and moved them into large cities to assimilate them into the American population. Basically, by doing that, the American government was hoping they would forget traditions and assimilate. They made it sound positive because they would buy you groceries and find you a place to stay, but that was pretty much it. But living on the reservation, there were no jobs a lot of times and it was hard. During that time, my family was relocated to Los Angeles California, and later moved to Sacramento, California – Del Paso Heights, particularly. That’s where my father grew up and where my family still lives today. My parents were married when I was born, but then they split up. Then my dad lived in Sacramento and we lived in the Bay Area with our mom. Because my dad was such a little kid when the Indian Relocation Act happened, there were some traditions he didn’t remember, but he did teach us everything he knew. However, I do have a lot of family that still live on the reservation and they do remember. Fortunately, my father taught my brother and me to be proud Native Americans and this is who we are. ‘Don’t let anyone ever take that from you. You need to strive and you need to be there for our people,’ he would say. In addition to my father, we had programs that were specifically designed for Native Americans in California. We used to go to this youth group in Martinez, California. They would take Native kids in the area and we’d go hang out, sing, drum and just get to know one another. A main focus of the group was to put us in a positive environment, empower us through tradition, and the value of sticking together, no matter what tribal nation we are a part of. When you’re in a huge city, especially somewhere as diverse as the Bay Area in California, you can’t point somebody out and say ‘They’re Native.’ As time goes on, people mix and things happen, so the look of a Native is different from what our history books show. In addition to that youth group, we were also part of an organization in Oakland called the Inner Tribal Friendship House, which was pretty much the same thing. I actually got to meet Billy Mills (former Kansas track and cross country All-American and National Champion) while he was here and it was really great to meet him, but he had been to the Inner Tribal Friendship House and has done a lot of things for it. I really look up to Billy Mills, because of the hope he gives to our people and how he focuses on the empowerment of Native Americans to fulfill their dreams.”
Q: Was it harder to maintain those traditions as you got into high school and college?
A: “When I was 15, my father died. Then I kind of went away from my traditions and from feelings those values as a Native man that my father taught me. I lost sight of that. I was distracted and mad at the world. Playing high school football kept me out of trouble, but we’d find a lot of trouble, too. I just kind of ‘lost it’ for a bit. I was still in contact with my family, but it just wasn’t a priority at the time. I graduated high school and didn’t even take my SATs. I thought I was never going to go to college. I lost sight of goals. I lost sight of who I was. So I screwed off after high school and hung out with the wrong people. And then I had the opportunity to come to Haskell. I came here in 2009 to visit Haskell and thought ‘I will never come here.’ It was the middle of nowhere, to Kansas from California; even though I knew my family’s ties to Haskell, I just wasn’t ready for it. I went back home and started looking in the mirror every day and really thought ‘You’re a loser. What are you doing with your life?’ I got tired of not pushing forward and using all of my abilities to achieve my goals.”
Q: Who or what was it that motivated you to change the path that you were on?
A: “It was more than just one event or one person. I was working at a 24-Hour Fitness in California, and my boss and I were having a casual conversation one day, and he asked me, ‘What are you doing with your life? You need to go to school, you have a ton of potential. You’ve got to do something.’ Around the same time, I was transitioning jobs, as well. One of my friend’s mom works for our school district and she told me they were hiring and paying decent wages. All I needed to do was pass a series of tests. So I quit my job at 24-Hour Fitness and became a substitute special-education assistant. I bounced around different schools until I found my home at Pine Hollow Middle School. Pine Hollow put me in an autism classroom. They were all boys. It was me and three other assistants, plus a teacher. I was the only male assistant. We had verbal and non-verbal students, so we would do activities with them and teach them things. What really caught my eye was, here are these students, who have to live with autism, and they’re here trying to be as best as they can every single day. Sometimes there would be some resistance, but they push forward and they are always trying to get better. Even the ones who couldn’t talk, I could see how hard they tried. It made me realize that you’ve been gifted with everything you need to be successful, so why aren’t you doing it? Here are these kids who have to live with autism, they’re doing it, why can’t you? Fortunately I got accepted into Haskell and I just remember telling myself that I need to do everything necessary to be successful.”
Q: You’re in a unique position where you were a student-athlete at Haskell and now a student-athlete at Kansas. Did your time at Haskell strengthen your Native American pride that you now bring with you to KU?
A: “Oh yeah, 100 percent. I always have been proud of my heritage, I just kind of lost sight of it for a little bit. I’m from a city where it’s diverse and then Haskell is very diverse, too, because there are so many different tribes and then those students may be mixed with something else. A lot of people don’t realize that there are so many different tribes. and how unique each one is. We may share some commonalities, but have our own traditions, ceremonies, and languages. I’m still finding myself here and I’m still finding my place here at KU. It’s really a tough transition going from getting your bachelor’s degree to getting your masters and also from competing at NAIA level (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) to Division I. It’s hard, but I’ve just got to remind myself why I’m here and remind myself of my goals and just keep pushing.”
Q: Competing for both NAIA and NCAA Division I schools, it is likely easy to see differences in resources. When you were at Haskell, did you find that teams made the best with what they have? That seems to be a great way to appreciate the things you have in life. Does that relate to tribal culture?
A: “I can’t speak for all Native Americans, but many come from low income reservations or cities, which make life very tough. It’s a hard life for many Native Americans still to this day. The students at Haskell come from all types of cities and reservations, low or high income. Culturally, if someone gives something to you, you take it and you’re grateful. It’s like going to someone’s house and they offer you something to eat, you eat it. If you don’t, they see it as an insult. There is a culture aspect to it. Haskell did a good job of getting us things even though the budget isn’t that good, and everyone is really grateful for what it is they have. It’s amazing. I’d say that is a mix of the culture and the environment they grew up in.”
Q: How old were you when you started joining these groups and learning more about your heritage?
A: “I probably started going off-and-on, from 10 to about 15 years old. After I turned 15, that’s when I started playing sports, so I didn’t have time to go as often. So as far as tradition goes, my father taught us what he knew and how to be proud of who we are. The Inner Tribal Friendship House really helped with that.”
Q: Did you “reunite” with your Native American culture when you came to Haskell?
A: “It’s funny because my father went through the same thing. My dad grew up there and he was an activist in the American Indian movement. He was really into it. In his adult life, he moved away from it, but in the last 10 years before his death, he was back into it. It was like he was here, lost it and then always came back to it again. For me, coming back to Haskell was a breath of fresh air. It was amazing. It brought more clarity to the things that make my family different from others. Haskell brought me back into balance and so I took advantage of every opportunity that came my way. My first semester was slow because I was still trying to get to know people, find my place in this transition. So it kind of happened all at once; I met people and found myself the first semester. My second semester I started being more active on campus. I was involved in more clubs, I started the first fraternity over at Haskell and I joined the track and field team. It was amazing because of Jim Thorpe. I used to work out there (Haskell’s Jim Thorpe Fitness Center) and (Haskell head track and field coach) Al Gipp would see me, and my brother was on the track team. Coach Gipp always saw me and I would go and say hi to him. One day when I was lifting, he came up to me and said ‘Have you thrown a discus before?’ I told him I had never done track and field before but he invited me to practice, so I was going to give it a shot. Then I joined the team and they were family to me. It was small and everyone got along perfectly; it was story-like how well this team got along with each other. On a personal relationship level, I could count on any one of them. It was awesome. We would do things together all the time. Anyway, I joined track and field and the first time I touched the discus was in March 2012. It was so horrible. When you watch it, you think it’s a piece of cake, but when you do it, it’s difficult. The thing that was cool about that was my passion and drive to be good at this. The first year was absolutely rough and the second year of track and field was pretty rough, too. But in that third year, I was really starting to understand it. My third season of outdoor was the good one. At Haskell, track and field was not my ‘everything.’ There are so many aspects of life I have to focus on to keep my balance. Track and field has gotten me to this balance where I’ve learned so many things about myself, and I’m still learning things about myself. It’s challenging me, especially coming to this level. Coach Andy (Kansas assistant track and field coach, Andy Kokhanovsky) always tells me that I need to relax and chill out. Track and field has offered me so many things that I’m forever grateful for. I don’t know what I would be doing right now if Coach Gipp didn’t come up to me in the weight room and invited me to join the team. He was willing to take a chance with me. Personally, the thing about being a student-athlete, you’re challenged both mentally and physically every single day. You’re grinding it out in the classroom and on the field or court. That always kept me on my toes. When I played football in high school, I didn’t care about school, I just didn’t care. In college, I appreciated it more. It’s the ultimate test, both physically and mentally.”
Q: Do you feel like it is your role to carry on Native American traditions and educate other people – especially in a setting where kids are coming from all kinds of different backgrounds?
A: “It’s hard because I want to educate people who are willing to listen. If someone is going to throw their guard up or tell me I’m wrong, then what’s the point? It’s like that old saying goes, ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force it to drink.’ I’m willing to tell people and educate them if they’re willing to learn. Of course, there are some things as tribal people that we keep in our tribal communities because our oral tradition is so important to us. Oral tradition is a huge part of our identity.”
Q: What exactly is oral tradition in your tribe and what does it mean for you?
A: “There are tribal creation stories. They are stories that are almost too sacred to share and then some people may misinterpret it. The best way I can relate it is Christians have The Bible and we have oral traditions. The Bible gives specific stories to teach you strong values to live your life, that’s the Christian view. We have oral traditions that are never written down – I’m sure they’re written down somewhere, but mostly they’re not written down. It’s kind of like we have Creation stories on how our tribe was created. There are stories on specific things that happened in the tribe. Over time, they kind of change just like any story, but it’s the same concept. If someone told us a traditional story, I’m going to interpret it in a way that relates to my life and you’re going to interpret it in a way that relates to your life. It’s funny, Natives love telling stories whether it’s traditional or not. That’s the best way I can relate it. We have a belief and they have a belief. My girlfriend’s family is traditional; she is Navajo, from New Mexico, and her father growing up would tell stories in Navajo and her and her sisters would just sit and listen. It’s such a good feeling. There’s still a lot of stories that I haven’t heard. The cool thing about Haskell is that people share stories. One tribe may have a story and then you tell them a story and it’s just really cool.”
Q: What’s it like to have gone from a whole campus of Native Americans to now you’re at a campus that doesn’t have quite as many on campus in general, let alone on your team?
A: “I’ve been in touch with Tiana Dockery from the volleyball team and she’s really cool. She and my girlfriend are from the same tribe (Navajo). Because Natives are such a small community it’s hard to find each other, so it would be cool if they were spotlighted so I could find them. That’s particularly for here (at Kansas), but I always still have Haskell. Brent (Cahwee Co-Founder of NDNSPORTS.COM) was the one who actually told me about Tiana. I just kind of ran into her in the hallway and talked to her for a while.”
Q: Is that why it’s so important that Natives are such proud people, because it’s such a small group of you in one area sometimes?
A: “That’s a big part of our identity; being strong. Even though our community is small and you may go places where there are no Natives, you may be uncomfortable and that’s okay. My dream in life is to empower Native youth, push them and provide opportunity and vision; things for them to prove that they can do it. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, you can do it. I try to do as much as I can and take advantage of every opportunity and push forward to do as great as I can. Then when I am empowering these kids, then I can be proof of it. That way I’m not just up here telling them something, but that I’ve been there and I know how they feel. Like I said, it may be uncomfortable and you may be in an area that is far away from home and you miss your family, but us, as Native people, we’re very family oriented. Being away from your family is so, so hard. There’s so much potential in Indian country, and being a positive role model or leading by example is a big goal of mine. I have a friend who is getting his law degree at Idaho and he graduated with his business degree from Haskell. Our dream is to create an organization that empowers these kids not only through sports, but through all of these different aspects (of life) and provides opportunity and a vision and role models. Role models are such a key thing in life and sometimes people have role models that are around them every day and they don’t even realize it until later in life. I just want to see not only young Natives, but all types of Natives, doing stuff and being great. They deserve it. Our youth is our future, they’re our future tribal leaders, they’re our future everything. They are the ones who are going to be leading us. There are a lot of things that talk about the seventh generation and we are the seventh generation. There’s a long prophecy that talks about the seventh generation. I don’t want a pity party, but we deserve it and I want to see us rise not only as tribes, but as people together.”
In this week’s edition of #oneteam with Quarterback Montell Cozart, we learn about the stylish sophomore’s obsession with fashion and socks in particular.
Q: Word is you have an awesome – and unique – sense of style. Care to explain?
A: “I have a sock fetish. My shoes and socks have to match my outfits. I have a pair of hamburger socks, which match a pair of my shoes and they match one of my outfits. People back home know me for wearing crazy socks. That’s one of my fashion tips.”
Q: What’s your typical ‘going to class’ outfit?
A: “I feel like you can mix it up. Sometimes I like to go to class in a pair of jeans and a nice shirt and some nice shoes. I don’t always want to look like a typical athlete with shorts, sneakers and a ball cap on. Going in there looking presentable, like you’re going out or to a function or that you’re going to go get a girl. I feel like that kind of sets a tone for being a student-athlete, too. That you’re able to switch it over and be presentable.”
Q: Is there a secret to picking out the right look?
A: “I’m kind of a nature person, so I try to blend in with the seasons. In the springtime, I’m trying to be colorful. In the fall, I go with oranges and browns to fit in with the season. My favorite color is orange – so I’m always bright. I have a pair of shoes that are all orange, so I wear them all the time. Then people always see me from a mile away.
I’m always trying to fit in but stand out at the same time. I do enough but not too much to where people try to judge you. I like to stand out in my own way.”
Q: Do you ever feel like people judge you because you dress well?
A: “I’m sure people judge me on ‘why does he spend his money on this or that?’ I could probably wear a different pair of shoes every day for a few months in a row. But everybody has their own fashion sense, so I don’t judge. If you can make it look swag and do whatever you can with what you’ve got, then I agree with that.”
Q: When did you start your trend-setting ways?
A: “My sophomore year is when I started to get on that kick. When they started coming out with a pair of shoes and then a pair socks would come out that matched exactly the same, that’s what did it for me. Ever since then I’ve been doing it. My sock drawer is ridiculous. I probably don’t have a pair of plain white socks in there.”
Q: Are your parents fashionistas, too?
“My mom is, for sure, and so is my dad. I have an older brother so I get it from him and it goes on down to me. I kind of go off of him and try to follow his lead.”
Q: Did kids ever tease you about it when you were younger?
A: “In high school we had uniforms, so I didn’t have to go through that. Our uniforms were a white collared shirt, a red collared shirt or a blue one and a pair of khakis. So for me, I had to wear a crazy pair of shoes. I had this pair that were tennis-ball colored and I would wear those with some crazy socks. People always know me for something crazy like that. I didn’t have to go through being picked on for fashion, but I always tried to make myself stand out and make my uniform swag, or whatever people say.”
Q: Would you ever be caught wearing brown shoes with black pants?
A: “Fashion rules definitely apply. I might wear some white pants when they’re out of season. But if you have a fashion sense, you can make up your own.”
Q: How often do you
get compliments about your accent?
A: “Pretty often.
It’s not the strongest accent in the world. A lot of people still look at me
funny, not sure if I’m saying something properly or if I’m just messing with
them. They never really guess (I’m) Australian. They usually guess that I’m
British. I don’t get that.”
Q: Did you grow up
A: “I grew up my
whole life in Australia. I just came to the U.S. for school. I traveled all
over the world when I was younger, that was something big that my family did.
We went on vacation a lot, traveled the world – I’ve seen a lot of things. I’ve
been very lucky.”
Q: What is the name
of your hometown?
A: “The suburb I’m
from is called Burpengary, it’s on the outskirts of Brisbane, which is the
third-biggest city in Australia. It’s pretty cool. There’s a couple of million
people in the city, but it still has that ‘country’ feel where everyone is
really friendly. It’s a nice place to live.”
Q: Australia seems
like a resort destination, a perfect place to live. Is that accurate?
A: “Definitely. You
get that feel from so many places in my country. In the center it’s just a
desert and no one lives there, but around the coasts and especially in the
tropic areas in the northern part of my state, it’s year-round sun. You’re on
the beach all the time. If you go south, around my town and Sydney and
Melbourne, it gets pretty cold in the winter. I can still go around in shorts
and a t-shirt pretty comfortably during the winter. I think Australia has some
of the best beaches in the world, personally.”
Q: A lot of
student-athletes talk about coming to college in the U.S. as a “dream,” but for
someone that comes from a travel resort home country – do you see it the same
A: “For me, it’s not
about, ‘Ahh the U.S., I’ve got to go there.’ That wasn’t the drive behind it.
It was more of me wanting to take my sport seriously. It wasn’t really taken
seriously in my country, outside of our sporting community. We (Australia)
didn’t have the money to support individual athletes as much. So now, I’m going
to school and training in fantastic facilities and traveling to other schools
with great facilities and fantastic competition. We’ve got everything here and
it’s covered – that’s amazing. My parents were willing to put me up if I stayed
home, which is awesome and I’m so grateful for their support, but I thought
coming to America was the best call.”
Q: Have your parents
been able to travel over and see you compete this year?
A: “This year has
been tough on them. They’ve both had some medical issues, then were out of work
for a while so they can’t just take time off right now. But they came over both
Christmas holidays, which was really cool.”
Q: Was that hard for
you to be so far away while your parents were going through medical problems?
A: “My parents –
being really nice and trying to protect me – didn’t tell me something was wrong
until everything was all right, which makes me feel terrible because I couldn’t
do anything. My mom had a heart attack and my dad had emergency gallbladder
surgery. I finally feel like I’m at the age where I’m responsible and I can
help out, but I’m not there and I can’t do anything, which kind of sucks. My
family has a lot of great friends back home that can help, so I guess they
don’t really need me. I’m just looking forward to seeing them again. It’s been
Q: Are you headed
back home when you’re done with school?
A: “That’s the plan.
As a place to live, I don’t think there’s anywhere better than Australia. If I
had a job and I needed to make money, then I’d stay here. It’s not like America
is bad or anything, it’s just not home.”
Q: What are some of
the most ridiculous stereotypes about Australia that you’ve heard since moving
A: “The usual – ‘Do you ride kangaroos?’ That’s a
pretty normal. You get so many Australia questions every day that I can’t even
remember them all.Lots of questions
about kangaroos. But I really do have kangaroos in my backyard every now and
then. On the soccer field at my high school, they sleep there during the day.
The thing I get the most when people find out that I’m from Australia is, ‘Oh I
really want to go there! That’s the place I’ve always wanted to go!’ I’ve only
had one person tell me he would never want to go there because it’s too
dangerous. People also ask about the snakes and the spiders and how dangerous
it can be, but it’s all good.”
Q: Is it actually
A: “Well yeah, we
have poisonous snakes, spiders, sharks, jellyfish… but if you don’t go where
they are, they won’t come to you. The worst thing is the spiders. I hate them.
I’m terrified of them. There used to be a big pine forest where my house is, so
a lot of huntsman spiders (the world’s largest spiders) live there. They aren’t
poisonous at all, they are actually really good because they eat other bugs, so
you want them around – but they are huge and absolutely terrifying (making a
hand gesture larger than a basketball). We get a bunch of snakes around the
house, poisonous ones. When I was a little kid playing in the backyard, I
almost stepped on a red-belly black snake. That probably would’ve done me in if
I had gotten bit. You’ve got to go to the outback to really come in contact
with the most dangerous snakes and animals.”
Q: Is there a trick
the locals know about dealing with snakes and spiders?
A: “Not really. I
remember I came home once from school and a python was actually trying to get
into the front door of our house and had already stuck its head underneath the
door. I don’t hate snakes, but I don’t like to handle them too much. We were
pretty sure that he wasn’t poisonous, so what we did was I had my brother go
inside from the back door and grab a broom to use to hold him back. The only
thing I could find was a javelin laying around the house, so I hooked him
around the jav and just moved him away.”
Q: What about those
huge, creepy huntsman spiders?
A: “They are in the
house a bunch. I remember one time, I woke up and had one crawling on the wall
next to me. That was pretty sketchy. I didn’t like that. You kind of have to
get used to the fact that they are there and think, ‘Hopefully they don’t come
get me tonight.’”
Q: Any other wild
animals Australians need to watch out for?
A: “We don’t have a
lot of larger animals, although the kangaroo can mess you up. There was an old
lady that lived a couple blocks from where we lived and she got killed by a
kangaroo a few years back. Any wild animal can hurt you, but we don’t have many
more than kangaroos and deer. I see koalas, too, but not as much. There aren’t
as many of them around, but they also hide in trees. I’ve only seen one on the
ground once – but they are adorable.”
Q: English is the native
language in Australia, correct?
A: “Yes, English is
the native language except for the aboriginals. Their language has over 300
different dialects. Every tribe has its own language and every tribe around
that tribe has its own dialect for that language. So, they can all kind of
communicate – slowly. The sad thing about it is, because of the way things were
handled with the aboriginals a long time ago, a lot of their culture was lost.
They are trying to fix it now, which is good. Now anytime there is a celebration
of anything in Australia, there is also an official recognition for the
original custodians of the land. But it’s still not perfect. It sucks when one
group of people come in and ruin the culture of other people, but everyone is
trying their hardest to fix it.”
Q: Do your parents
have super exciting jobs that create all this world travel?
A: “My dad is an air
traffic controller by training, but he does a lot of project management and
stuff like that with different technologies, like controlling aircraft and
creating new flight paths. My mom is a music teacher. She’s the head of
performing arts at our high school.”
Q: What are some of
the earliest things you remember about traveling the world?
A: “I have a lot of
cool memories, but the earliest ones are hard to remember. I have flashes of
memories when I was one-and-a-half years old and we went on a three-month
holiday around Europe. I remember flashes of that, like I remember the car we
drove but nothing in depth. I think we went to Lego Land, but other than that I
don’t remember much. When I was six or seven, we went to Hawaii and that really
stuck with me. That was one of my favorite places. They’ve allowed me to see so
many cool things, like going to Paris and seeing the Eiffel Tower or a couple
years back when we went to Egypt and saw the pyramids – that was pretty
special. It’s hard to believe you’re actually there. You grow up your whole
life seeing these things, then to see them in person is pretty specky
(Australian word for a spectacular mark in the Australian Football League). I
traveled to the States three or four times before I actually started school
here. Then in my freshman year, we went to New York for a meet and that was
really cool. Walking around in Times Square, I really enjoyed that.”
Q: Not many kids
have the opportunity to travel around the world like you have. Was that
something particularly important to your parents, to provide those experiences
for you and your little brother?
A: “Yes, I mean I
know they enjoy it themselves, seeing and learning so many different things.
But it did have a profound effect on me. It gave me such a perspective of the
world, experiencing different cultures and different ideas. It’s something that
you can’t teach in a classroom. I encourage it. You see a lot, learn a lot and
meet a lot of new people. I love it.”
Q: How were you able
to travel for such long lengths of time? Did you get pulled out of school?
A: “With my mom
being a teacher, she really isn’t a fan of missing school. She’s all about the
academics. Our summer holiday in Australia is over Christmastime, so we travel
a lot in the northern hemisphere in winter time. Normally, we travel not during
school. Mom doesn’t like us missing school. There was one time, grade six, we
went to New York for a bit. That was like two weeks, but that was the only time
we ever got to miss school. The only other times have been for competitions.”
Q: How many
countries have you been to?
A: “I counted them a
little while back, but probably 25. I’ve
been to more than 25 countries. I did the same things in the States, and now
I’m up to 23 states. I’ve beat a couple of my friends here, which annoyed
Q: Is Australia a
big country? Bigger than what it looks like on a map?
A: “You’ve got to
think about the fact that the size of Australia is the same size as the
continental U.S.A. It’s massive. A lot of our states are bigger than Texas, and
we only have seven states. So from my state, if I want to go to the north
coast, it’s like 15 or 16 hours away – and that’s in the same state. Back in
the old days, we actually used to have a cattle ranch in Australia that was
bigger than Texas. Just one farm. So they say ‘Everything’s bigger in Texas.’
No, that’s not actually true. Even Sydney is 12 hours away and it’s ‘close.’”
Q: What is the
Australian culture like?
A: “You guys (in the
United States) don’t get many holidays at all. A lot of Australians have a few
weeks of holiday per year. We have a lot of public holidays and long weekends.
Especially around where I live, people will leave the city and drive north to
go to the beach. So every Friday there is so much traffic, everyone is going to
the beach. That’s very common there, to go to the beach for a weekend. Culturally,
I think we have a broader perspective on what’s happening in the world. We were
on a track trip and driving somewhere – Alabama or somewhere like that – and I
really got the feeling that these people haven’t been anywhere. But to them,
there’s no point. They can hunt, go to work, go to school all right there.”
Q: Are athletics as
big of a deal there as they are here?
sports aren’t nearly as big. We put more focus on club sports. If you want to
be serious about your sport, then you play club. Some of the more prestigious
high schools or private schools here focus more on sports and have
scholarships, but a lot of them don’t do that at all. Then, the high schools
that have sports still compete at a high level, but people don’t train for them
as much. You show up and play the game. The sports master (Australian version
of an athletic director) at our school was really cool, if we wanted to play a
sport then he’d make a team for it.”
Q: Did that make it
easier or harder for you to get started in track and field?
A: “Most schools get
interschool competition and the idea is to get everyone involved. That’s
actually how I started discus. Back in fifth grade, we had our first school
athletics day. I showed up and won the discus. Because I won that, then I got
to go to districts. From there, I won that so then I went to regionals. That is
when my dad said he would coach me. I won regionals, went to state, won state
and then went to nationals. From 10 years old, you have national competitions
in each age group. Until my senior year, every year I went to nationals for
discus. That’s how I got into the sport. Without that, I probably would’ve just
stuck to rugby. So even though sports there aren’t as serious, I think it
definitely introduces more people to sports.”
Q: Did that make you
an odd man out amongst your friends, since you took sports seriously?
A: “When I got to
seventh grade, I realized I was pretty good at it and should probably focus on
it more. So, I started training more and more, then I joined a club. It was
really silly and weird, but club teams have their own districts, states and
nationals – so I ended up going to two nationals a year for a while. I took it
pretty seriously and accepted that my academics would probably slip a little, but
my mom was a teacher and still forced me to go pretty hard academically, as