For Tyler Robertson, the journey to college basketball wasn’t just a matter of playing the game, but meant he would have to move thousands of miles away from his home and family in Australia.
Before Robertson was recruited to play for Eastern Washington University, then-coach Shantay Legans went to Australia to watch him play. The connection made between the two has transcended their time at EWU.
While there, Legans was able to meet Robertson’s family, but wasn’t able to meet one of the most important people in his life.
“He didn't get to meet my grandfather, who is a big part of my life,” Robertson said. “He's unfortunately not with us anymore. But right before he passed away Legs sent him a video just saying that, you know, he was gonna take care of me and everything once I came out here.”
Robertson’s story helps highlight the guiding themes in Legans’ coaching style — family, trust and commitment. Robertson now plays as a guard for UP.
“Those are the three things that you'll see in and around our program, our guys talk about it,” Legans said. “It's always on our whiteboards.”
Now coaching at UP, Legans has brought those same ideals to the Pilots’ men’s basketball team.
“Our team goes off of three pillars, and that's family, trust, and commitment,” Guard Mike Meadows said. “And that's something that I implemented in my life, you know, I mean, outside of basketball.”
Legans' coaching is something that Meadows will take past basketball, he said.
“I think it's him teaching life lessons outside of basketball, which is really important in a game that's so relatable to life because there's ups and downs throughout a game and you have to be able to fight through adversity and still somehow come back out on top,” Meadows said.
Both Robertson and Meadows transferred to UP to continue working with Legans — a sign that Legans had significantly impacted their lives both in and out of the game.
“Leaving Eastern for me was not an easy decision, but Legs made it an easy decision just because that's the guy that recruited me,” Meadows said. “And his transparency with me is second to none. He's always been honest with me and kept it real with me and I owe a lot of my improvement to him.”
You’ll notice the use of the nickname “Legs” — a testament to the friendship these players have established with their coach.
In March of 2021, Legans was announced the next head coach of the struggling men’s basketball team at UP. He came to lead the Pilots after completing 12 seasons for EWU, where he took the Eagles to five postseason appearances. In Legan’s final season with EWU, he led the team to their 3rd NCAA tournament appearance.
Coming to UP presents a considerable challenge for Legans. The 2019-20 season was a difficult one for the Pilots, with only 1 of their 16 conference games ending in a win. The following season, the Pilots ended with a record of 0-11 in conference play.
After years of losses, he is not only adjusting to the nuances of coaching a new team, but battling the Pilots’ reputation as a team in the graveyard.
But Legans is prepared to rise to the occasion, bringing with him new faces to the program. With seven freshmen in the line up, the team is young, and that is an important piece of building a program.
Legans approaches the team with a “why not?” attitude, asking why the Pilots couldn’t compete with the likes of Gonzaga and BYU.
“Why can’t this be a great program?” Legans said. “The school is already good. There have been soccer programs with championships. Why can’t it be us this year?”
Being home to the Trail Blazers, Portland is no stranger to basketball, but it wasn’t just the city that attracted Legans to UP. It was the school itself.
“It's a great city, and the University is on par with my values and how I look at things,” Legans said. “You know, it's really important that the academic piece is taken care of, and then on the other side, it's really important that you go find kids that want to be at the University of Portland. It's one of the top universities in the country, in the world even and so, when you're part of something so special like that, you're really excited, and it's a great recruiting tool.”
Legans grew up in Santa Barbara, California. He went to Dos Pueblos High School, where he would go on to be the best the school had seen, and earned the title of all-state point guard. Legans continued on to play in college, where he was point guard for the Golden Bears at the University of California Berkeley from 1999 to 2002. He transferred to play his senior year with Fresno State.
Following his college play, Legans played in the Netherlands for Basketball Academie Limburg from 2005-2006, and Donar Groningen from the year after.
That would mark his last year with his sneakers in the game. He cites “being short” as his reason for switching from playing to coaching.
In 2007, Legans started as an assistant coach for Laguna Blanca School. Two years later, he moved on to start his successful career at EWU. Legans became head coach in 2017.
Legans’ call to coaching came from the impact his own coaches had on him, describing some of them as father figures.
“A lot of the father figures in my life were coaches, and I always wanted to be a teacher slash coach,” Legans said. “That was possible after I was done playing and being able to, you know, help people reach their goals.”
Those same sentiments are now shared by his players, like Robertson and Meadows.
“He loves his family and we're like his family away from his own family,” Robertson said. “And he treats us all like one of his, I mean, just having that father figure as well. Especially someone from Australia that doesn't have family over here, he and his family have been the best to me.”
Walk-on freshman Chika Nduka noted Legans’ focus on inviting players to be a part of his family, too.
“We have team dinners at his wife’s house, and he’s always talking about family, trust, and commitment — those are the three big pillars for our team,” Nduka said. “He’s always preaching that. So every time we bring it in it’s always ‘family on three.’”
Whether the players have known Legans from EWU, or just met him this year, they have felt the support and compassion from their coach.
“He's willing to go out of his way to help me improve on minor details and help prepare for the next upcoming games and that's, that's really awesome because you don't see a lot of head coaches humble enough to do stuff like that,” Meadows said. “So the fact that he's willing to do that means so much to me, and I really cherish those moments.”
Legans doesn’t want success to be confined to the lines on the court. He wants to see his team winning in life, too.
“Basketball is only for so long, your academics and all that stuff is for a lifetime, and you want those guys to understand that,” Legans said.
Legans is confident that, with the school’s growing support for the program and the team’s promise, they can do great things.
“Our soccer teams, our tennis teams are playing well, our volleyball teams are coming around,” Legans said. “You know, we're starting to have an athletic department that could mirror some of the top schools in our league.”
The men’s team is boasting a record of 7-3 overall, with league play starting Jan. 1. Legans and the Pilots have faced opponents like Arizona State University, and the Virginia Military institute, scoring 60-76 and 82-90 respectively. Their next game is on Dec. 13 in San Luis Obispo against Cal Poly.
Wilder Isom is a sports reporter for the Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Austin De Dios is Editor-in-Chief of The Beacon. He can be reached at email@example.com.