To suggest Zane Robison wore a number of crucially important hats for Timberwolves Athletics would be an understatement. Over the course of nearly 15 years, Robison was a founder, a player, a captain, an assistant coach, a fundraiser, a head coach, a recruiter, and even an athletic director. Without Zane Robsion, there is no UNBC Athletics as we all know it. Therefore, without Zane Robison, there could be no inaugural class of inductees into the Timberwolves Wall of Honour.
A graduate of Nakusp Secondary School, Robison arrived in Prince George in the mid-1990s, with intentions of continuing his education in natural resource management. He had played basketball at NSS, but excelled more at the defensive end than he ever did scoring the ball. UNBC was in its infancy as an institution, so the idea of having a varsity sports program at a brand-new university seemed impossible.
However, impossible wasn’t a word that registered with Robison. In 1996, he was part of a founding group that took the initiative to create the Timberwolves basketball program that competed in a local men’s league. However, the work was just beginning. Over the next number of years, Robison championed the idea of the TWolves joining the ranks of the BCCAA collegiate ranks.
Beyond working to improve the on-court product, Robison had to work with UNBC administration, lobbying for the backing to make the leap to the college ranks. However, his finest work was in the community, drumming up fundraising support and the local following that would become the Timberwolves’ calling card.
“Zane was, by far, the most passionate person I have ever met about UNBC Men’s Basketball,” said UNBC Athletic Director Loralyn Murdoch, who was the head coach of the UNBC Women’s team until 2013. “He really put the program on the map, and the Timberwolf name quickly developed a really good reputation around the region. He was a player at that point, but everyone knew he was so much more.”
In 1999, the TWolves took that step into the collegiate ranks, tipping off for the very first time on November 19 against the College of the Cariboo. Robison was in the lineup that night, at a game played in the College of New Caledonia gym, in front of a sold-out crowd. The team would have to wait until January 14, 2000 to earn its first win, an 83-71 victory over Malaspina University.
The team, led by head coach Reg Carrick, went 5-11 on the season, but the inaugural campaign was never about wins and losses. Robison’s vision had come to fruition, and the city had Timberwolves fever. Statistically, he had modest numbers. However, Robison was the team captain and clearly destined and determined to bring the university athletics to the next level.
The following season, Robison retired from his on-court career, and accepted a position as Carrick’s assistant coach. He was again tasked with the responsibility of continuing to build sponsorships and community support, while using his basketball IQ to aid the Timberwolves in taking another step forward in the BCCAA. At the conclusion of the season, Carrick resigned, and then-Athletic-Director Len McNamara began his search for a suitable replacement.
That candidate was right under his nose, and Robison was officially named head coach of the Timberwolves in June of 2001. Even then, despite his youth and relative inexperience, Robison had a long-term, big-picture vision for UNBC Athletics; in 2001, he identified a national championship and an eventual jump to the CIAU (the former moniker of USPORTS) as part of the plan.
In 2001-2002, Robison’s first season as bench boss, the Timberwolves went 9-9 and qualified for the BCCAA playoffs. Todd Jordan was a freshman on the UNBC roster that season, and said his young coach’s commitment to the program and to the community were infectious for the players.
“Zane was just so key in creating a buzz about the program, and driving that support that led to early success for the Timberwolves,” said Jordan. “He was also a really gifted recruiter who was able to identify and commit multiple players who would end up league all-stars for us. He was someone you wanted to play for, because he believed in what he was doing.”
One of those all-stars was Jay Gladish, who Robison recruited from Chilliwack after his Grade 12 season. Gladish would go on to lead BCCAA in scoring under the watchful eye of his head coach, and remembers Robison’s emotion and allegiance to all things green and gold.
“Zane was intense on the court, and well-known for his courtside theatrics. He expected his players to bring that same intensity to the game,” said Gladish. “I think he respected the guys who could set great screens and were willing to put their body on the line as much as the guys who were leading scorers. He also wasn’t afraid to hold guys accountable for their actions on or off the court. He set a high bar for us as a team and program and that’s why we continued to see growth year after year.”
Over the next number of years, Robison continued to set a standard away from the court that has stood the test of time for UNBC Athletics.
“Zane truly understood the connection between the classroom and the hardwood was important, and he ensured that the student-athletes had the best shot at academic success through tutor programs, engagement of professors, and access to on-campus resources,” said Murdoch. “He was a strong advocate that UNBC was a great academic choice, as well as Prince George being an amazing place to live, attend school, and play varsity basketball.”
That advocacy led to stronger and stronger recruiting classes, as he looked to put the Timberwolves in a prime position to build a national powerhouse. Following the 2007-2008 season, Robison accepted a position with UNBC’s Student Recruitment and Advising Office, and he stepped down from his role as head coach of the program that he had built.
The cupboards were not bare, however. In fact, Robison left them full of talent from northern British Columbia and beyond, putting the TWolves in a prime position moving forward.
“He cared so deeply about the growth of the program and bringing legitimacy to university basketball in Prince George. He accomplished just that,” said Gladish. “He was able to keep homegrown talent, but also recruited some high-level players from elsewhere. He is a big reason the program was able to move forward.”
That passion for the Timberwolves would play a critical role in the two goals he set out when he took over the head coaching position in the spring of 2001. The UNBC Men’s Basketball team, under Robison’s successor Mike Raimbault, would win the CCAA National Championship in 2010; many players on the roster were recruited to UNBC by Robison. Courtside for that victory in Calgary? The man who was once a student, recruiting other UNBC pupils to join a program competing in the local rec league.
In 2010, UNBC made a presentation to the Canada West Conference of the then-CIS; the highest tier of university sport in the country. Robison was part of that presentation, along with UNBC President George Iwama and Prince George Mayor Dan Rogers. Two years later, his prediction came to fruition, as the Timberwolves played their first games at the CW level.
Over his coaching career, Robison had seven players named to league all-star teams, and won 58 games as a head coach of the program. However, his legacy runs far deeper than wins and losses.
“Zane’s impact on UNBC basketball is one of the foundational blocks on which our program stands,” said Todd Jordan. “To go from a player to coach in the very early years of the program. Zane was a key figure in driving community support for the program as well as building the success in the early years that still resonates. He completely deserves this.”
Every year, UNBC men’s basketball honours a player with the Zane Robison Award. Fittingly, it is given to the player deemed “Most Dedicated” to Timberwolves Athletics.