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Finding her stride

Williston State guard Jazzmine Robinson’s two years at the oft-frosty and desolate junior college have been as life altering as life affirming.

Alteration was the idea, though.

Two years before leading the 20th-ranked Tetons (30-3) to next week’s NJCAA tournament, Robinson was in the market for a safe haven.

Finding refuge from the dangerous, felony-plagued streets of Las Vegas was as much a priority as continuing her career beyond embattled Mojave High School.

Her trials at Mojave, a school known for its inordinate dropout rate, violence and vandalism, gave her the incentive to look elsewhere.

“I saw things that shouldn’t be seen by anyone,” said Robinson, who admittedly fell into a couple shady crowds.

Tragedy struck the decorated combo guard early, too.

As a freshman, Robinson had already lost a close friend in a gang-related shooting. By the time she exhausted her eligibility, she had lost a handful of peers in the same manner.

“I lost a lot of friends,” Robinson said. “I just didn’t want to live there anymore.”

The Northwest League co-MVP, basketball was her ticket out of the Sin City. Her grades, however, were a millstone in that pursuit.

Recruiters marveled at Robinson’s athleticism, versatility and ability to score in bunches -she dropped 43 points in a conference game as a senior -but once they got wind of her faulty academics, they backed off.

Vanderbilt was the most prominent program in the Robinson sweepstakes, but her transcripts weren’t on par with the Southeastern Conference school’s requirements.

An academic non-qualifier, she had no choice but to take the junior college route.

“Going (junior college) wasn’t by choice,” Robertson said. “It was something I had to do.”

A grip of Juco coaches kept in contact with her as she completed her high school diploma over the summer at an alternative school. This was until former Williston State men’s basketball player Royal Jackson put a bug in her ear.

Jackson, also a Mojave standout, had just finished his freshman season at WSC and talked it up enough to pique Robinson’s interest.

Soon after, void of even taking a recruiting trip, Robinson found herself inking a letter of intent with the Tetons.

“I basically just took (Jackson’s) word for it, to be honest,” Robinson said with a laugh. “I knew it would be a lot different, but that’s what I wanted.”

Different in capacities beyond the culture shock and severe climate change that would come from a Vegas-to-Dakota move.

With her sunny disposition, Robinson had little trouble making friends and embraced Williston’s welcoming community that was the antithesis of her hometown.

Her biggest hurdle was adjusting to on-court structure, which threw a wrench in her freshman season.

“Her minutes were way down,” WSC coach Luanne Axelson said. “She really struggled with structure. It wasn’t really her fault, she just came from a program that always freelanced.”

Robinson still had an essential role in getting the Tetons a game away from the 2012 NJCAA tournament, but Axelson, an assistant at the time, could sense discontent.

Losing her best athlete to a transfer wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.

“When she went back home for the summer, we weren’t even sure she was going to come back,” Axelson said.

She did, though, and has been surprising coaches, teammates and the Mon-Dak Conference ever since. She had averages of 13.5 points. 4.2 assists and 2.3 steals a game on her way to Region XIII MVP honors.

Robinson netted 26 points in the District II championship against Malcom X College (Chicago, Ill.), getting the Tetons back to the national tournament after a three-year absence.

“It’s like everything just started clicking for her,” Axelson said. “She grew up. She matured as a person, as a player and as a teammate”

Eventually hitting her stride on the hardwood didn’t take as many people aback as her progress in the classroom.

Axelson, who noted that teammates would often knock on her door in the morning to get her up in time for class, expects Robinson to receive her associates degree this spring.

“It’s good to see that my hard work is paying off,” said Robinson, who has been getting the most interest from nearby Minot State and Dickinson State. “My time in Williston has made me see things differently. A look at life a lot differently now.”

Axelson expects Robinson’s stock to rise at the national tournament.

“She’ll get a lot more exposure,” Axelson said. “She’s a fantastic kid. Always polite. Well mannered. I’ve been getting eight to ten calls a day about her and our other girls.”

Tetons ready for North Idaho – again.

Back in November, North Idaho College -ranked No. 1 at the time -was one of just three programs to give the Tetons a loss.

Williston State dropped the home contest 58-48 and they’ll be looking to avenge the loss on a more significant stage.

The Tetons open the 32-team NJCAA tournament at Salina, Kan., Monday at 4:30 p.m. against the No. 11 Cardinals (28-4)

“They’re a very quick team who likes to press. They push the ball the whole time,” Axelson said, “and they have one of the best point guards in the country.”

Axelson is speaking of sure-handed Australian, Georgia Stirton, who averages 9.5 points and four assists. The balanced Cardinals don’t have a player that averages over 10 points, but nine players can reach the scoring column at any time.

“We weren’t as good as we are now,” Robinson said of the loss to NIC. “But I’m sure they’ve improved, too. If we play hard the entire game, we can come out on top.”

Williston State lost both of its games in the 2010 national tournament. North Idaho College won the 2011 national title.

The game will be broadcast on KEYZ AM 660.