LAME DEER — During a break in a recent school day, 17-year-olds Tamia and Jasmyne “Jazzy” Two Moons strode side-by-side into the gymnasium at Lame Deer High School toting basketballs and sporting the Morning Stars’ black jerseys with teal trim.
In that regard, they looked every bit the sisters their Cheyenne culture tells them they are — and nearly indistinguishable as well, right down to their lanky builds, flowing dark hair and resumes boasting formidable basketball skills and 4.0 grade-point averages.
Then they began to speak.
Fire meet ice. Ice meet fire.
In an instant, their dramatically divergent personalities — likely a result of their dramatically divergent paths to this moment — are revealed.
Tamia, a high-scoring senior point guard who talks trash on the court and dreams of playing basketball or running cross country in college, spun her ball nonstop, moved her knees like an accordion and her eyes danced around the gym as she talked at a full sprint — her unbridled energy and self-assurance a reflection of the zigs and zags in her journey.
Jazzy, a high-scoring junior ‘two’ guard who leads by example and dreams of playing basketball for perennial power UConn, rested her hands on her ball, sat mostly motionless and shared her few words in hushed tones — her calm and shyness a reflection of her life's relatively uneventful straight line.
“It’s just their personalities, the way they came up,” explains August “Tiger” Scalpcane, their third-year coach. “Tamia’s the feisty one. She’s a fighter, like a little Chihuahua. Jazzy is a silent killer. She’ll drop 40 or 50 (points) on you with a smile.”
Basketball followers can see for themselves Thursday through Saturday when some of the most famous DNA in the Northern Cheyenne culture will be on display in the All-Indian Shootout at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark. A time and date to circle: 6 p.m. Saturday, when the Two Moon girls and their Lame Deer teammates square off against prolific freshman Mya Fourstar and Frazer.
“We’re excited to see her,” Tamia said.
The same is true across Northern Cheyenne country of the Two Moons, whose presence and an infusion of new talent have created a buzz normally reserved for their high-octane boys team. The Morning Star girls won three games a year ago on the heels of even more futility, but it was through no fault of Tamia, who averaged 23.2 points a year ago and 21.3 as a sophomore, and Jazzy, who was at 17.8 last season after scoring 18.6 as a freshman.
“Even though last season we didn’t win a lot of games, we didn’t lose by a lot, either,” said Tamia, who scored 32 points in a season-opening win over Broadus last Friday. “We’d lose by one point, lose by two points. The few times we lost by a lot we lost our heads. We have more girls this year that actually want to put in the work. We have the same goals. We want to make it out.”
Added Jazzy: “I’m just very confident about this year.”
Their confidence stems largely from the commitment the inseparable “sisters” have to each other, dating to when they first picked up basketballs late in elementary school, along with their “brother”, Trustin, now a senior on the boys team. Though technically Tamia and Jazzy are first cousins — daughters of brothers Dustin Two Moons and Austin Two Moons III (also Trustin’s father), in their world first cousins are akin to brothers and sisters.
“It’s the Cheyenne way,” Scalpcane said.
Both of their fathers were basketball players of note as well, and both girls are cognizant of their family history on the court and beyond. After all, they are great-great-granddaughters of the legendary chief Ishaynishus, or Two Moons, who fought against the cavalry at Little Bighorn, Rosebud and Wolf Mountain, and was first chief of the Northern Cheyenne reservation.
“It means a lot to represent that name,” Tamia said. “All the way down our family was good at basketball. Our grandma was good. Our grandpa was good. Our parents were good.”
Said Jazzy: “It runs in our blood.”
Would their great-great-grandfather have liked basketball?
“Probably not,” Tamia said with a laugh. “Too spiritual.”
As first-graders, the girls and Trustin were just beginning to learn life and basketball from their fathers/uncles before fate intervened harshly in 2006. Tamia’s dad, Dustin, who still holds numerous Lame Deer basketball records, died just before his 24th birthday.
Neither did much with the game in the ensuing years, though Jazzy and Trustin were exposed because Austin — like Dustin, the son of Indian Hall of Famer Austin Two Moons Jr. — regularly played in tournaments. Jazzy says she didn’t touch a ball until fourth grade and Tamia’s interests also ventured elsewhere; only Trustin kept dribbling and shooting.
“After all that history, when we had all those deaths and everything, our family was kind of broken,” Tamia explained. “We had to bring it on ourselves later to learn the game. I had to learn it from Jazzy and Trustin.”
Even then, as Jazzy grew up under the same roof with her parents and brother, Tamia’s path would splinter. She lived with Jazzy, moved in with grandparents on both sides, and even spent sixth grade in Albuquerque, N.M., where she joined a boxing club.
“I wasn’t in love with basketball,” she recalled. “I was in love with boxing.”
Reunited in Lame Deer in junior high, and after Tamia had entered the Head Start program and moved a year ahead of Jazzy in school, the girls turned serious about sports. They ran impromptu distance races in the pine hills around town or played basketball on their grandparents' driveway outside the little red house seven miles west of Lame Deer, on a hoop Dustin built just before he died.
They typically were joined by their brother and his friends. He in turn taught them some of the moves and toughness that give them an edge today.
“They play like boys against boys,” said Trustin, who averaged 15.4 points last year as a junior for the 12-9 Lame Deer boys. “They’re not afraid to get aggressive. They stick with us and play hard against us.”
Jazzy said her father’s constant presence has been an anchor Tamia hasn't had, and she credits his teaching and critiquing for her success. Meanwhile, at her grandmother Paula Littlehead WolfBlack’s urging, Tamia spent her freshman year under Scalpcane’s coaching eye and the structure of dormitory life at St. Labre Indian School before joining him and her freshman “sister” at Lame Deer.
So for three years now, Tamia and Jazzy have again been as inseparable as sisters, even as their distinct personalities continue to shine through. Jazzy is mostly a homebody who fancies books; Tamia, who is back living with her paternal grandparents west of town, is more social when she isn't playing, studying and schooling at Lame Deer and Chief Dull Knife College.
“They stay out of trouble,” Scalpcane said. “Jazzy goes home and reads and never talks about going out. Tamia can go out, stay out late, but she’s like the community kid here. Everyone knows her. She’s got that smile. Other than being feisty on the floor, she’s a super kid.”
Scalpcane said their athleticism, academics, and work demeanor are drawing interest from colleges. He declined to name schools for now, but said NCAA Division I schools are in the mix, one from the Ivy League. Jazzy's future is in basketball and perhaps Tamia's is as well, though cross country appears more likely.
Both girls and Trustin see sports and college as opportunity outside the rez — “When they get down to a ‘B’ they’re in panic mode because both are looking for a way out,” Scalpcane said — but here’s the rub: All three vow to return after seeing how far sports can take them. Tamia and Jazzy see themselves as Morning Stars coaches and Trustin wants to be an engineer in Lame Deer because, “This is home and I’d always come back and do something to help out the rez in any way I can.”
Who would be the head coach?
Tamia looked at Jazzy: “Her,” she said, pointing.
Jazzy pointed to herself: “Me,” she said.
Then they both laughed, at precisely the same time, and the “sisters” were as indistinguishable as when they strode into the gym basketballs in hand.
“It doesn’t matter,” Jazzy hastened to add, “as long as we’re both coaching together.”