Tatum Neubert returns home after overcoming hurdles

Luke Zahlmann

While the typical student heads home for Thanksgiving, the women’s basketball players that are hundreds of miles away from home chose to go to Tatum Neubert’s house. After turning down the opportunity to play at Colorado State University, Neubert is back, officially shedding the ‘butthead’ moniker once given to her by Coach Ryun Williams.

With a former NFL tight end father and a mother who played softball at the University of Nebraska, Neubert was raised around sports.

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“I can remember I was playing the rec leagues and stuff like that,” Neubert said. “I really got into (basketball) probably my sixth or seventh-grade year when I got into club (basketball). Ever since then, it’s been nonstop.”

Originally from Elizabeth, Colorado, Neubert was courted by several of the top programs in the nation including the University of Oregon and Colorado State. 

Tatum Neubert, 44, looks for an open teammate during the exhibition game on Nov. 2. (Tony VIllalobos May | Collegian)

In her high school stint, Neubert was a worker. Whether it was during practice or after, her work ethic is what stuck out to those inside and outside of the program.

“Tatum was always first in the gym,” high school coach Jaime Schmalz said. “I would come in during school and if she had an off hour or study hall, she’d be in the gym shooting. She was always in the gym working and she seemed to love it. It was never a hardship for her.”

After a last-second push from the staff of Oregon, Neubert headed to Eugene where a women’s basketball powerhouse awaited. Seeing eye-to-eye with Oregon Coach Paul Westhead, Neubert chose to go away from home, a decision that created a string of bad luck.

First, Westhead was let go by the university, severing the bond between the program and Neubert.

“(It was) a system she wasn’t used to, just things that really didn’t fall into place,” Jaime Schmalz, Tatum’s high school coach said. “I’m sure if that coach stayed, Tatum would’ve had a great career at Oregon.”

The departure, in part, led to only three starts in her lone year up north. The choice to maintain her commitment to a program in flux is something that her family has seen often, attributing it to her character.

“She loved Coach Westhead and that was basically the reason she went out there and then they didn’t bring him back,” father Keith Neubert said. “But she said ‘you know I’m committed and I’m gonna keep my word’ and I respected her integrity.”

Then came the obstacles outside of her new program. Her father, Keith, was diagnosed with cancer. Told he may not be able to beat it, the feeling of distance between Neubert and her dad grew beyond just the 1300 mile trip from Elizabeth to Eugene, Oregon.

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No longer could Tatum’s parents make it to games, forced to watch from home.

“She started games and was playing great and enjoying the game, but I think dealing with what I was going through, there was no question it weighed on her,” Keith said.

That prognosis, bleak in nature, is something that her father said would be tough on anyone, regardless of their age. Her being just a freshman in college only multiplied the difficulty.

Around the same time as her father’s battle with cancer, Tatum suffered a severe knee injury, just a year after transferring from Oregon to Louisiana State. The move came after she fulfilled her commitment to begin her career as a Duck. That injury, another roadblock in her career, served to bring out her character once again.

“Her attitude is just unbelievable and that’s what makes Tatum special,” Schmalz said. “She’s had so many hardships with her surgeries and transferring out of Oregon. (Tatum) is a really special kid and it’s not because she’s athletic.”

That attitude, paired with the 6-foot-2 frame on Tatum is what attracted Williams to the forward in the first place.

“It was like one of those kids that you just know that ‘this kid needs to be a Ram.’ She just fit every which way,” Williams said. “Tatum is the most vibrant personality I’ve ever come across.”

Before the graduate transfer made her way back to Fort Collins though, Tatum took a couple pit stops. Those stops, both as a Duck and Tiger, taught her lessons that have transferred to how she plays and who she is on the court. 

Girl shooting basketball.
Tatum Neubert shoots the ball during a game against Cornell on Nov. 25. (Tony Villalobos May | Collegian)

“I think (moving around) has helped me grow as a player, I’ve gotten to see a lot of different programs with a lot of different mentalities,” Tatum said. “I think it’s made me more versatile… I learned how to have confidence in myself and learn my strengths and not get down on my weaknesses.”

One of Tatum’s strengths is that of leadership. Once a backup on multiple teams for long stretches, the graduate transfer has started each game for the Rams, leading the team along the way.

Tatum has averaged 7.3 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. Despite the slow start for the team, her addition is paying dividends.

“She has a very infectious personality, people like Tatum, people are going to listen to Tatum,” Williams said. “She plays with an enthusiasm, so our kids want to rally around that. I think you’ve seen it in our first couple games that she can be a heartbeat kid.”

Now, perched in the stands, adorned in gear they acquired after a shopping spree at the bookstore, Tatum’s parents can be seen cheering loudly.  The two now get to not only talk to Tatum after each game but are able to go to dinner, sharing a meal with their 22-year old daughter.

After all of the heartbreak from afar, Tatum Neubert is home.

Collegian Sports Director Luke Zahlmann can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @lukezahlmann.