Tribal Government & News

Tribal member Cohen Haller scores prestigious all-league and tournament honors

04.30.2024 Danielle Harrison Tribal member
Tribal member and Willamina High School senior Cohen Haller has received numerous awards for basketball during his high school career. Some of these include selection as an all-league and all-state player every year since he was a freshmen, most valuable player at Willamina for the past 3 years and being named the News-Register Athlete of the Year. (Photo by Michelle Alaimo)


By Danielle Harrison

Smoke Signals editor

While in elementary school, Tribal member Cohen Haller remembers a fellow basketball player that he really admired telling him he would never be a point guard.

“He looked like he was ready to cry when I picked him up from school that day,” his dad, Tribal member Rich Haller, said. “He told me what had happened and I asked him a question. ‘Do you believe that?’”

The answer was no.

“Well, I don’t believe it either,” Rich said.

Fast forward several years and Cohen, 18, is one of the most celebrated 2A league point guards in the state of Oregon and has received numerous awards for basketball during his high school career. These honors include selection as an all-league and all-state player every year since he was a freshmen, most valuable player at Willamina High School for the past 3 years and an array of senior year accomplishments.

He scored a quarter of all of Willamina’s points during the regular 2023-24 season, was selected to first team all-league, second team all-tournament for his work at the state tournament in Pendleton, was one of five players in his league to be named to the all-defensive team and was named the News-Register Athlete of the Year.

Additionally, Cohen’s 26-point game in post-season play was the highest in the tournament and his free-throw percentage was second highest after Willamina’s game against Regis High School on Friday, March 1.

It was a fitting conclusion to his high school basketball career after years of daily practice, gym workouts and time spent studying his craft via YouTube technique videos and games.

When asked about these accomplishments, Cohen is decidedly modest.

“I try to always be really humble,” he said. “It’s a nice feeling to be recognized like that but I always feel you should stay really calm and stable with your emotions and not get too excited.”

For Cohen, emerging as a strong basketball player came between fourth- and fifth-grade, when he would sit for hours on the kitchen floor and dribble a basketball to the video game NBA Baller Beats, which he said is similar to Guitar Hero but the objective is to bounce the ball to the beat.

“For the next two full years I think, he drove me nuts with the sound because it was right near our living room wooden floor where the T.V. was, but you could see him getting better every day,” Rich said with a smile. “He came back the next year and the coach was like, ‘What happened to Cohen?’ At that point, he was just shining and that carried over into AAU ball as well.”

When he was in middle school, Cohen was called up to the high school level for summer league ball, where he was competing against kids who were much bigger and older.

“He’s always been a pass-first player,” Rich said. “So kids love to play with him because he’s not one of those kids who scores 30 points a game. He could, but he’s unselfish with how he plays.”

This season, Cohen and his fellow Willamina Bulldogs were determined to secure a spot to compete in the state tournament in Pendleton.

“We were really focused on winning, not any high-point games, just get in every game and get a win,” he said.

Even on days when Cohen isn’t playing basketball, it’s still top of mind.

“Whenever I come home and want to watch something, it’s YouTube basketball, two hours a day,” he said. “Playing basketball can range from an hour to five hours, however long I can stay in the gym. I’m always trying to learn and get better.”

Added Rich, “It’s always been a really big focus and he would spend a large majority of his sophomore and junior years getting to school at 6 a.m., and he would work out until 8 a.m., and then he wouldn’t get home until almost 9 p.m. after evening practice…That’s an idea of how hard he works.”

Cohen’s mom, Sunni Ulestad, is proud of her son’s work ethic in basketball and in how he lives his life.

“I think I would just like to say besides his basketball achievements, he is such a humble human being,” she said. “He is kind, young kids look up to him and he’s one of the hardest working kids I know. He has never let a single thing get in the way of the success he’s had on the court. He really is the best son I could have ever imagined…made it really easy being his mom. I can’t wait to see what he does in the future, on and off the basketball court.”

When he’s not practicing basketball, Cohen enjoys playing the guitar. He’s also an honor roll student and was inducted into the National Honor Society last year.    

Now that his final high school season has concluded, Haller is focused on the next phase of life: College ball. He’s been invited to open gyms with players from Linn-Benton Community College and George Fox University. He also plays for a men’s basketball league in Salem.

“I’ve just been all around, trying to get in front of coaches, trying to practice and get better,” he said.

Future basketball endeavors include an all-state tournament with other Oregon 2A league players in June and Native American basketball invitational tournament in Phoenix in July.

No matter what the next phase of life brings, Cohen sees basketball as always being a part of it.

“I think I really just like being able to play with friends, you know?” he said. “Also, just the competitiveness when you can get the right people around you. It’s nice when you can go to a gym and have people around you who are also your friends compete at a really high level. You can tell who works hard and who doesn’t. I really feel basketball is a community no matter where you go.”