Tanisha Begay picks Fort Lewis for basketball

Karl Schneider

SHIPROCK — Tanisha Begay’s wild recruitment process came to a close today when the Shiprock senior signed a letter of intent to play basketball for Fort Lewis College.

Tanisha Begay, center, signs a national letter of intent to play basketball for the Fort Lewis College Lady Skyhawks on Tuesday at the Chieftain Pit in Shiprock.

Begay, a 5-foot-9 guard capable of playing multiple positions, drew attention from numerous Division I programs across the country. And as a straight-A student, she garnered the attention of Ivy League programs, including Princeton and Columbia.

“It was an emotional ride," said Begay, who's receiving a full-ride scholarship at FLC. "One day I’d get a text from the University of Portland, the next day it’d be (University of Nevada Las Vegas) — it was up and down. It was something I can’t explain unless you experience it for yourself, but it’s something I’m grateful to experience because not a lot of kids get to.”

She initially committed to play for the University of New Mexico, but after the program fired head coach Yvonne Sanchez in March, Begay was left in recruitment limbo. UNM offered to honor her commitment, but with a new coach she didn't know, Begay elected to reopen her recruitment.

Shiprock's Tanisha Begay dribbles the ball down court against Kirtland Central on Feb. 17 at the Chieftain Pit in Shiprock.

“I felt like since coach Sanchez wasn’t there I didn’t feel like I would be at home there,” Begay said. “It gave me the opportunity to find somewhere that would feel like home.”

The signing also completes a longtime dream for Begay, whose first memories of basketball include playing on a toy hoop set up in her family’s living room.

“Since she was a little girl she had dreams of going off and being a college player,” said Shiprock head coach Larenson Henderson. “She works hard and will bring a good work ethic to basketball and to school, and she’s going to compete because that’s the kind of attitude she has. They’re getting a quality player and I’m really proud of her.”

Her de-commitment from UNM opened the door for FLC women’s coach Jason Flores, who had been recruiting Begay for years. Flores said Begay is an ideal fit for his program, matching the three main categories he looks for in a player: a good person, a good student and a good player.

As a Division II program in Durango, Colo., the Lady Skyhawks were lower down on Begay’s list of options, but that didn’t deter Flores from recruiting her.

“For us, it was waiting out the Division I schools because she got a lot of interest from Division I schools early. We told her, ‘We love you to death. We’d love for you to come and we’re going to keep recruiting you no matter what,’” Flores said. “We’re super happy to get her.”

After reopening her recruitment, Begay made an official visit to FLC. She said she wasn’t initially sold on the program, but as she pondered the decision more and more it began to make more sense.

“I didn’t see myself there and it took me a couple of weeks of thinking, and the time came where I decided to go for it,” Begay said. “I thought about how coach Flores is with his team and his players, and it just felt right. He’s the type of coach that gets his players, and that’s something that I look forward to.”

Shiprock's Tanisha Begay shoots over a pair of Kirtland Central defenders on Feb. 15 at Bronco Arena in Kirtland.

Begay joins a phenomenal recruiting class for Flores. Joining Begay at FLC next year will be Vivian Gray, ESPN’s No. 26 recruit in the nation out of Argyl, Texas, and fellow New Mexico products in Eldorado’s Sydney Candelaria and Hope Christian’s Hannah Valencia.

With the signing of two heralded Division I prospects, Flores has a potential dynamic duo in Gray and Begay, and he believes the attention Gray will attract from opposing defenses in the post will free up Begay to reach new heights.

“Those two are going to be a tandem to watch,” Flores said. “Vivian is going to take the pressure off of any perimeter player we have, and Tanisha is going to be dangerous because she’ll be open and have the freedom to shoot. People aren’t going to have the luxury of keying in on her so much. I’m excited to see how her game can take off.”

Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.