For most of the players on the Tribesmen boys team from the Brighton Reservation, a trip to the Phoenix area in July marked their first experience at the 17th annual Native American Basketball Invitational.
The week at the tournament, which features 64 Native boys and girls teams each, is one they won’t soon forget.
It’s a lot faster. You don’t need a shot clock,” said Tribesmen coach Preston Baker, whose roster included current high school players and a couple 2019 graduates. “That tournament is hard. You have to be in shape and be ready to do your thing.”
The wake-up call for the Tribesmen came in an opening game loss, but they quickly rebounded and won their second game in the pool portion of the 68-team boys tournament that featured Native squads from throughout the U.S. – mostly from western states – and beyond.
Moore Haven High School’s Donovan Harris and 2019 Okeechobee High School graduate Lucas Osceola brought plenty of NABI experience with them, having played on the Seminole Tribe’s championship team at last year’s tournament.
For the younger players, getting acclimated to the quick pace and adjusting off the court to the sweltering heat in the desert was all part of the learning curve.
“For the younger boys, it was a new experience and they were happy to be there,” Baker said.
The Tribesmen finished second in pool play and advanced to the Gold Division playoffs. They were ousted in the first round by FMD (Arizona, Yavapai), which went on to win the championship
Baker said Osceola, a guard, and Andrew Fish, a forward who will be headed to St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens to play football, were among the standouts for the team. Overall, Baker was pleased with the effort of the squad.
“The boys played hard. They played their hearts out,” Baker said. “It’s a different pace, faster than what we used to. We got up there and we figured out that we’re a little behind. We need to work on some things.”
It wasn’t all business for the Tribesmen; they spent some time whacking golf balls at TopGolf.
“They enjoyed themselves,” Baker said. “Golf is not their game; we’ll stick to basketball.”
The Tribesmen were one of six Florida teams at the tournament.
The Shooting Stars, which featured Burgundy Pierce and Caroline Sweat from Brighton, won the girls Silver Championship. The Silver category is for teams that finished third or fourth in pool play. The team also had players from Comanche, Muskogee Creek and Winnebago.
The Stars roared through the playoffs with wins against teams from Arizona, Iowa and South Dakota. They beat Florida-based A.B.C., which included Navajo players, in the semifinals.
The Stars captured the championship game with a win against Pink Thunder (New Mexico, Navajo) at Talking Stick Resort Arena, home of the Phoenix Suns.
A.B.C. notched playoff wins against Hualapai Nation (Arizona), Wildfire (North Dakota) and Elite (Canada – Six Nations).
Also in the girls tournament, Native Soldiers, from Florida, finished first in its pool and then cranked out playoff wins in the Gold Division against Oklahoma Tushka, NA Natives (Arizona, Navajo) and N-10 (Arizona, Navajo).
Native Soldiers’ run came to an end in the semifinals with a loss to NM Elite (New Mexico). NM Elite won the championship against Unity.
The Native Soldiers’ boys team also made an impressive run in the playoffs. After finishing second in their pool, they beat NM Mustangs (New Mexico, Navajo) and PHX Hotboyz (Arizona) before being ousted by Sweat Rocks (Kansas, Northern Cheyenne, Navajo) in the quarterfinals.
The DC team, also from Florida, finished third in its pool and lost in the first round of the Silver playoffs to Sharpshooterz (New Mexico, Navajo).