Tatum Sheley has worked for everything she’s earned.
She worked to be a six-year varsity player at Pine River-Backus.
She worked to be a five-year starter for the Tigers.
A two-time Northwoods Conference Player of the Year, a three-time Brainerd Dispatch All-Area Team selection and five-time all-area nominee, PR-B’s all-time career leader in points, assists and steals, the school-record holder for most points in a game (44) and now the Dispatch’s Player of the Year are all things she worked for.
But those things pale in comparison to the work Sheley put in just to get back onto the court where she dominates.
She blew out her knee last summer playing AAU basketball. She didn’t play her first game this season until after Christmas break. That didn’t stop her from finishing with 380 points (17.3 per game), 80 rebounds, 132 assists, 80 steals and five blocked shots. Those numbers, and her leadership, helped PR-B to the Section 5-1A final.
But Sheley admits, her not being on the court may have been the best thing for her teammates.
“The thing is when I got injured, I was really playing well,” she said. “I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t get injured, but like I’ve said before with me being injured, everyone had to step up.
“My teammates couldn’t just throw me the ball. They needed to, and they did, do it themselves. I don’t think they would have had the confidence they do now if I was still on the court. Everything worked out better this way,”
Sheley is confident, but she’s also smart. While she worked for everything she’s earned, she knows she hasn’t done it alone. The youngest of three, her two older siblings were both Dispatch Players of the Year before her. And she stole every bit of basketball knowledge she could from both.
Her brother, Tucker, was the starting point guard for Pequot Lakes when they went to back-to-back state tournaments.
“Tucker was more of a smart player,” said Sheley. “I learned more of the game from him. He was different. He was smart on the floor. He was the commander of his team. I remember his games the most because his teams were so good.
“Some of my favorite memories were watching him and hoping to be that good. I learned a lot from him.”
Tucker Sheley went on to play at St. Olaf. Taylor Sheley, Tatum’s older sister, starred four years at Bethel University after starring at PR-B.
“Taylor, she was more of the aggressive one,” Tatum said. “She was more out of control, but she knew how to score. She taught me that I don’t want to be a wimp.
“She didn’t care about the thinking part of the game. She just knew how to play. She could score. She was always the one that pushed me. I still don’t think I’ve beaten her in one-on-one.”
Sheley’s mom, Kim, played for PR-B head coach Randy Schwegel in her days at Backus High School. Kim was the typical basketball mom.
“My mom, both my parents, and my whole family are all supportive,” said Sheley. “Every game except for maybe Blackduck they were there. My aunts and uncles and cousins were at every game. I could look into the bleachers and there would be my family. I always had the biggest cheering section. Even when I wasn’t playing they would come and support us. All my siblings got that and that really helped me.
“But my mom was my biggest supporter through all my games. She drove me to AAU and camps. She was my biggest supporter.”
Then there is her dad.
“My dad (Dave Sheley), he coached me when I was younger and he knows the game pretty well,” said Sheley. “He’s always the one I can hear in the stands. He’s the one that pushed me to be the best I can be.
“He’s also the one that would say something after a game that would tick me off. But after the fact, I would take his advice and put it into action.
“My family is the best.”
Sheley also benefited from one of the most respected coaches in the area. And she knows it.
“I don’t think there is a better high school basketball coach out there,” she said of Schwegel. “He is always there when you need him. He’ll come and open the gym whenever you want to. You can call him anytime.
“He just cared about us so much. He was really good for our team. He has always been there for me, especially after my injury. He was there the second day after I got hurt. He rebounded for me every day. He’s the best coach I could have.”
Nobody will miss rebounding for Sheley more than Schwegel, who calls himself the all-time leading rebounder in school history despite graduating from St. Cloud Apollo.
“She just gets it,” said Schwegel. “We talk about a lot of things and it got to the point the last couple of years where I would say her name and she’d reply ‘I know.’ She would make changes right before I would say to make those changes. They were done already.
“You can have kids for two, three or four years and they may be good, but they don’t get it. She just got it. You can show Tatum a certain shot or a way to attack a defense and she would see those things on the court.
“I’m going to miss her. She’s that kid. She’s my second daughter.”
Family, coach, oh yeah. The people Sheley relied on the most during her basketball career were her teammates and that’s who she’ll miss the most.
“We’ve always had the best team,” said Sheley. “We never had that drama-filled team. We always had fun laughing. Even in practice Schwegel would get so mad at us, but he couldn’t get that mad because we were always winning.
“We have a really good program here. Schwegel and (assistant coach John) Riewer and all of our coaches put in all the time to make us who we needed to be.
“The teams have all been my favorite. From seventh grade and playing with those huge seniors and my sister, to playing with Katie (Wangberg) and Hannah (Lemberg) that was a lot of fun. We were just young kids so we could go out there and surprise people. Then Autumn (Ackerman) and I and all of us seniors had to take over and it was crazy because it felt we were just eighth-graders like yesterday.”
Sheley hasn’t decided where she’ll play next year. Whichever team that is will inherit a heavily supported, talented and most important a hard-working basketball player.