The first time I met Jain Tuey, she was starting her freshman year at Fortuna High School, where I was teaching. After work, I ran into her dad Skip at Safeway and we chatted. The whole time, Jain was holding a basketball against her hip, impatient and glaring at me in her T-shirt and sweatpants. It was early fall and not yet basketball season. I asked her why she was carrying a basketball and she snapped, "I like basketball!"
By the time Tuey was an 11th grader, I had been her teacher twice and we were buddies, even though she was always grumpy with me and pretended to not like my style of communication. She could give it back as well. She became my teacher's assistant when she was 16, following in a long line of assistants who did not care for making copies and running errands.
One day, I gave her a dollar to run to the post office, get a stamp and post a letter. The post office was only two blocks away and it didn't seem like a complex task. I guess it wasn't a simple task after all and the incident made for an often-told story, but I'll stop here at her insistence.
Tuey was relentless on the high school basketball court. She was a leader, running the point, stealing the ball; she became a complete student of the game. In 2008, after a successful career at Fortuna High School with all-league honors, she left for Shasta Junior College with high hopes. There, she garnered freshman player of the year awards.
Her brother died that summer and she came home to be with her family, devastated. She'd soon face other deaths and obstacles. The next two years, she worked and took some classes. She also coached Fortuna's freshman girls basketball team — one of the toughest coaching assignments since one is often dealing with dads who taught their girls the game, coached youth teams and don't want to give up control. Tuey was successful her first time coaching, even though many of the more talented girls were moved up to junior varsity and varsity.
During this period, Coach Doug Oliviera of College of the Redwoods was trying to get her to come play women's basketball for him. Oliviera is a legend in local basketball and would become Tuey's inspiration as a coach and role model after joining the 2011-2012 team.
With only six women, CR finished second in conference and made state history by finishing a game with just three players after injuries and fouls, a victory over Mendocino. Tuey was an All-Golden Valley Conference pick, team MVP and among the top 10 scoring leaders in California. It was the first year CR made the state playoffs in 20 years.
She transferred to Humboldt State University for the next two seasons, gaining attention as one of the few recent local players making the grade at HSU. She was team captain her senior year and won the Fighting Jack Award for her relentlessness. She also finished her degree in kinesiology.
She became Oliviera's assistant coach at CR for the 2014-15 season and took over the program as head coach in 2017, winning the league title in 2019. Her coaching highlight so far has been hosting and winning a state championship bracket game against Skyline College in front of a packed home crowd gym. Having been overlooked by the selection committee as the No. 8 seed, a death seed when the No. 1 seed is one of the top teams in the nation, they lost to San Joaquin Delta College after only trailing by four points at the half.
CR has had a difficult time in recent years both luring athletes into the area and keeping local ones around after graduating high school. According to Tuey, this year has been particularly difficult, with no full high school schedules and an overlap of sports last year making it hard to communicate with local kids.
Always learning, Tuey recently met with Jason White, the new football coach at CR who has had great success recruiting locally, and came away with some ideas on how to keep the troops local. Regardless, for many local athletes, staying home is a tough sell.
Tuey has signed Gracie Betts and Kendall Stewart from Fortuna into the program — the duo hardly lost a game the last two years. Returners Ashley Quigley and Denise Horton, along with some other promising newcomers and veterans, could respond well to her intensity this year.
Tuey is already a master of the nuts and bolts at the community college basketball level. She likes a smothering defense, combined with a quick transition and shooting the three-pointers. She also knows how to work around the players and their talents. That is the part of coaching that the fans see.
What makes Tuey a particularly good coach are the intangibles. She connects with her players, stays on top of their grades and eligibility, and treats them as friends even after they have finished CR. She listens, cares and understands the hardships of the age. She expects commitment and hard work, but her athletes love her because she leads by example.
She wants to continue coaching because she loves to "watch the growth of her athletes on and off the court." She says, "Basketball gave me opportunities that I would not have had and I want to be part of that for others. What Coach Oliviera did for me, I want to do for them."
Her former athletes sing her praise. Bobbie Purify, one of the best local female athletes says, "Jain is one of my few female role models in life. We are not that far apart in age and we are good friends, but she knew when to be serious with me. I knew that Jain had some tough times in life like I did and we connected. She encouraged me to play and let basketball be part of what keeps me going and gives me opportunities." Purify is finishing her college basketball career at William Jessup College in Rocklin, majoring in kinesiology and hoping to coach one day. Does all this sound familiar?
Bree Northern, another of Tuey's former local players, says, "Jain was more than a great coach, but a true friend, a mentor and someone I could always turn to. I cherish the years I played for her. She helped me become the best player I could be, and guided me to my potential as a student athlete and as a person." Northern will be playing at Simpson College this season.
As a real estate agent at Coldwell Banker Cutten Realty, Tuey will be balancing her time this year: maybe teaching a class or two, coaching summer ball, then running conditioning workouts before official practice starts Oct. 1.
When I watched Tuey's team play a couple years ago, she was dressed for the part, professional and athletic. We made quick eye contact, and she gave me a head nod and a little smirk as if to say, "Hey, look at me Kaus, I'm running this show and I'm all grown up now, and no one wants to hear the stamp story again."
Rod Kausen (he/him) is a retired teacher and coach.