Xavier Tillman is not like most college students. Aside from being the 6’8 power forward for the Michigan State Spartans, a team currently working their way toward the Final Four in the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, the 20-year-old sophomore is also a father to his 2-year-old daughter, Ayanna “Yanni” Tillman, whom he shares with fiancée, Tamia Todd.
Tillman and Todd, 22, have been together for three years, engaged since 2017, and are planning to have their wedding in May. Next year, however, while she’s looking to transfer to Michigan State to study becoming an elementary school teacher, Tillman is hoping to start playing ball in the NBA, a dream which is now very much a possibility.
After every game, Tillman goes court side to give his daughter a hug and a kiss, a tradition that could soon take place in a much bigger arena, with him wearing a professional team’s jersey. So, how does Tillman balance being a power forward, college student and a father?
Here’s what you need to know about Xavier’s fiancée and daughter:
1. Xavier and Tamia Met in High School
The first time Tillman met Todd, they were introduced by mutual friends and he complimented her tattoos. “Literally from that time, we just hit it off and we’ve been talking every day since,” he described to the State News.
Not long after, the couple learned that Tamia was pregnant. Tillman was still a junior in high school, but both of their families turned up for support. They all agreed that it was in everyone’s best interest for Xavier to keep pursuing his basketball dreams.
“They told me to focus on basketball because they said that’s going to be the way to provide for your family,” Tillman said. “They said ‘You have to lock in on basketball and you have to make sure that you don’t waste any opportunities on the court and make sure that you don’t take days for granted. Because this is going to be your way to provide for your family.'”
The Four Star recruit from Grand Rapids Christian went to Michigan State, and team Coach Tom Izzo has never seen Xavier lag due to his situation. In fact, it’s been the exact opposite. “This is one of those win-win-wins,” Izzo said. “There’s not many win-win-wins in the world. I said it before, I’ll say it again: Xavier has taught me a lot about how to handle tough situations more than I’ve taught him and I just love the kid for that.”
Xavier knew heading to college as a soon-to-be dad wasn’t ideal but said, “When kids look up to NBA players or college players, it’s like ‘I want to be like them.’ So, when they look up to me, I want to be able to tell them you got to make sure you do all the right things. You’ve got to take care of your business… Honestly, stick to sports and video games so you can stay out of trouble.”
His mother, Tanya Powell-May, used to play basketball while she went college at Xavier’s rival school, University of Michigan. She said to Spartan Tailgate, “Being a student-athlete myself, I know the rigors and demands they have on student-athletes and the additional possible burden of a family. It was something that we all came to an agreement with right away that it wouldn’t be a distraction. They would just help. He’s happiest when they’re with him and I was very comfortable because he’s pretty mature and Tamia is very mature.”
2. All of His MSU Teammates are Considered Yanni’s ‘Uncles’
Of his MSU teammates Xavier said, “We call all of them her uncles. Jaren [Jackson Jr.] was the first one, she called him Uncle J.J.” In order to let Xavier have a night off to study or to merely have a break from Daddy duties, his fellow players, coaches and close friends love spending time with his 2-year-old daughter. And that includes former recruits Lourawls Tim “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr., and Miles Bridges.
Junior point guard Cassius Winston taught Yanni how to sandwich two Oreo cookies together. “I’m pretty sure if he had to pick somebody to babysit, it would be me,” Winston said. “She’s like the ideal child. I don’t even know how to explain it. I haven’t even seen her cry before, like, that’s crazy. She’s always happy, always in a good mood, always wants to play.”
While other players can go out at night, play video games, basically, act like normal college students, Winston knows that isn’t in the cards for Tillman and does what he can to help out. Why? Because that’s what brothers do. “He can’t get in on that experience just because he’s got a family. He’s got a daughter to put to bed. He doesn’t get those opportunities, but he does a good job of being involved with us and with his family at the same time.”
Tamia loves how much the teams loves Yanni. “They’re arguing over who gets her,” the future Mrs. Tillman said. “I think it’s great because there are just that many more people who have her back in any situation that we need it. So, it’s great.”
3. Tamia Used to Play Lacrosse and Wants to Be a Teacher
Tamia currently takes classes at Western University, but is looking to transfer to Michigan to continue her studies toward becoming an elementary school teacher. Before becaming a mother, Tamia was also an athlete. In high school, she played on the lacrosse team.
While Tamia works a babysitting job, in addition to her school responsibilities, much of the daily parenting during basketball season falls to her which is not lost on Xavier. He said to Spartan Tailgate, “The amount of love that she shows me every day and the willingness to take care of Ayanna and to help around the house, and to go to work every day early in the morning is just unbelievable. The drive that she has and the love that she has is something that I couldn’t even imagine. Having her in my life, and not just like having her as a friend, but having her as a fiancée and soon to be wife, is more than anything I could ever ask for.”
Xavier’s younger sister Madyson, who currently plays basketball in high school, is a big fan on Tamia. “Her charisma, she’s so outgoing and she’s so funny, she’s so nice and she just has the biggest heart and she’s so friendly. When I first met her I knew she was going to become a great friend of mine.”
Xavier’s mother is also grateful for Tamia’s presence in her son’s life. “She’s got a great head on her shoulders. She wants to get an education. She’s pursuing her goals that God has given her. She’s a great mom to Ayanna and she’ll call on me if she needs help. She’s the kind of person that you want there in his corner. Somebody who’s going to support him for the things that he wants.”
4. Being on the Road is Tough for the Entire Family
Part of being on the Spartans’ basketball team means that much of the time, you’re on the road traveling for away games. After MSU’s win against the Ohio State Buckeyes Tamia said of Yanni, “She definitely struggles with it sometimes, because we stay at the hotel the night before a (home) game, so even like this morning, when she woke up and came in our room, she was like ‘Where’s Daddy?’ And I had to remind her that Daddy had to stay at the hotel.”
If Xavier joins the NBA Draft and is picked by a team on the coast, the traveling issue will become more of a problem, however, it’s the kind of problem he and his family are hoping to have and conquer.
5. Yanni is a Court Side Scene Stealer
While March Madness games are pretty exciting to watch, especially heading into the Final Four, there’s nothing on the court more adorable to look at that Xavier’s daughter, who’s always dressed up in her best MSU gear. She’s been her father’s biggest cheerleader since she was old enough to walk.
“She has a lot of personality coming in,” Tamia said. “She’s walking, she’s talking, running, sprinting, anything she can to always be moving. She’s learning to be very sassy, so she doesn’t always listen the best anymore.”
“Every night before she goes to bed we always go over the alphabet, her numbers, colors and then she has two favorite books we read. (Tillman and I) read every other page, so we both read to her before she goes to bed. Then she always wants a hundred kisses and a hundred hugs from both of us, so she always goes back-and-forth, back-and-forth.”