NABI tournament showcases Native basketball talent
July 21, 2017
Gila River Indian News
From July 9 - 15, 128 teams representing over 300 indigenous tribes from all across North America and New Zealand battled it out on basketball courts for the largest Native youth basketball tournament in the world, the 15th Annual Native American Basketball Invitational.
The NABI Tournament kicked off with opening day ceremonies on July 9 at Copper Sky Park in Maricopa, Ariz. The event featured speakers, presentations, and prizes for the over 1,600 Native athletes from as far away as Alaska and New Zealand.
NABI is the premier basketball tournament in the country for Native American and Alaskan Native youth. Some of its greatest sponsors include the Phoenix Suns, the Phoenix Mercury, Nike N7, the Ak-Chin Indian Community, and the Gila River Indian Community.
Following a team parade of all the athletes on opening night, Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis said, “On be half of the Gila River Indian Community, the Akimel O’otham and Pee Posh people, we’re proud to stand with our hajun, the Ak-Chin Indian Community, for being proud sponsors of NABI this year.”
He also noted the importance of youth and high school sports. “Sports builds character and it builds leadership. That’s what NABI is, it’s about leadership.”
Ak-Chin Indian Community Chairman Robert Miguel acknowledged the growth of the NABI tournament. “It gets bigger and better every year,” he said.
Miguel also recognized the City of Maricopa and the strong bond between Ak-Chin and GRIC. “We’re family,” he said.
The opening day ceremonies persisted with a presentation by NABI sponsor Nike N7 and a fireworks show.
Games were played around the Valley including Maricopa and in Distirct 5 at the Vah-Ki Multipurpose Building. Gov. Lewis appreciated the District 5 Recreation Committee and staff. “Thank you to District 5 for successfully hosting NABI games for our youth.”
Playing basketball teaches hustle and discipline, said coach Rudy Flores of the Gila River Boys. “The more discipline they have, the more focused they are on whatever they’re doing,” he said. These values are transferable to the real world when they need determination at work or school.
Flores is from District 5, where the Boys’ Tuesday game against N8V Thunder took place. They dropped that game, but win or lose, Flores said, “it’s all hustle, hustle.” Flores would like to see his boys succeed in life. He said, “If they have that talent, I want them to use that talent. I want them to have that opportunity to be out there and go to school.”
Likewise, Edward Lucero, coach for the girls’ team Snaketown, said playing basketball instills life-lessons in the youth, like family values and healthy living. Both of his daughters play for Snaketown and both, he said, have abstained from drugs and alcohol because of it.
Lucero said basketball has the power to bring families together. “The family aspect of it is the most important thing for me,” he said. “Basketball has been very, very good for us…hanging out with each other and teaching and going to [different] places.”
Snaketown didn’t win its Tuesday matchup against A1 Elite, but the team continued to put up more of a fight as the game developed.
Two other teams from the Gila River Indian Community competed in the tournament. The Gila River Girls pounded the hardwood and learned some hard-fought lessons to bring back to the court next year.
The GR Hawks showed the most promise among the four GRIC squads, qualifying for the Boys’ Silver Division Tournament. After handing losses to the AZ Outlaws and the Young Bucks, the Hawks fell in a nail-biter to the T.O. Storm.
On July 15, four teams, representing some of Indian Country’s most talented basketball players went head-to-head at the Talking Stick Resort Arena where the Cheyenne Arapaho boys’ team and Yakama Nation girls’ team took home the tournament’s gold division championship.
The championship, which featured four games split into silver and gold divisions, was the culmination of this year’s NABI tournament where 64 boys teams and 64 girls teams, faced-off in over 300 games played during a span of seven days.
Boys’ Gold Division
In the boy’s gold division, five-time NABI champions the Cheyenne Arapaho, out of Concho, Okla., played against The Lower Sioux, of Morton, Minn.
The Arapaho team, who were runners-up in last year’s NABI tournament, began the game slow with just 8-points scored against the Sioux’s 30, with only 6-minutes left on the clock in the first half.
The Sioux’s large lead was short-lived however, as the Arapaho picked up their pace and began dominating offensively, closing the gap by the end of the first half, 35-24.
During the second half the Arapaho gained the lead and kept it until the buzzer marked the end of the game and clinched the team’s sixth NABI championship, the score 75-71, Arapaho.
Girls’ Gold Division
The girls’ gold division game began with the Yakama Nation from Washington and the NN Elite out of Houck, Ariz., playing a highly competitive game, with each team scoring almost every time they had possession of the ball. Yakama led the game at the half, 32-27.
During the second half NN Elite climbed within one point of Yakama, but couldn’t keep pace with the Washington-based team as they began to flounder after giving up 13 points with no response.
Yakama Nation closed out the game, 64-50, grabbing the girls’ gold division championship.
Boys’ Silver Division
The Barrow Whalers out of Sells, Ariz., and the only O’odham team to make it to the NABI championship faced the San Carlos Chiefs, out of San Carlos, Ariz., in the boys’ silver division.
The game was typical of rezball, physical, high scoring, and fast-paced with both teams neck and neck as the clock wound down during the first half. With only minutes left on the board, the Whalers picked up their pace, pushing to a 10-point lead due Tahja Mayberry’s aggressive playmaking and Lionel Nez’s outstanding perimeter shooting.
The Whalers continued to play strong, leading the game with just five minutes left. With the clock counting down, the Whaler’s began to slow their pace on the court, scoring less and less each time they had possession of the ball. The Chiefs capitalized on the games changed momentum, gaining a 12-point lead and winning the boys’ silver division championship, 87-75.
The Whalers is a misnomer. The team is actually called Three Nations with boys from the Tohono O’odham Nation, Gila River, and the Navajo Nation. However, due to administrative complications they are listed as the Barrow Whalers with NABI.
Girls’ Silver Division
In a lopsided match between the Elite N8Vs of Gallup, N.M., and Waziyata Unpi out of Fort Yates, N.D., the N8Vs dominated the first half of the game with the help of Amanda Mitchell’s string of three-pointers. N8Vs led the game at halftime with a score of 25-11.
Waziyata continued to fight against N8Vs powerhouse offense, and with 2-minutes left in the game, slowed their pace and struggled to hold their defense together.
The N8Vs took the girls’ silver division championship with a final score of 48-26.