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Nationz squad battles to third place finish in Kansas tournament

The Nationz team gathers around the third place trophy it won at the Mid-American Youth Basketball Nationals held Aug. 3-6 in Kansas. Florida was represented by head coach Preston Baker, players Ricky Garza and Alyke Baker along with assistance from Mona Baker, Theresa Frost and Steve Frost. The team also included players from Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma. (Courtesy photo)

A trip halfway across the country proved to be worthwhile for some Seminole basketball players and coaches.

The Nationz team, which was guided by head coach Preston Baker of Brighton and featured his son Alyke Baker, and Ricky Garza, of Big Cypress, finished in third place out of 60 teams in the 11th and 12th grade division at the Mid-American Youth Basketball’s Nationals held Aug. 3-6 in Wichita, Kansas.

Nationz was the lone squad from the Eastern U.S. Most of the teams came from Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming.
Nationz’s squad also included players from Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

The team lost its first two games in pool play, but shrugged off the slow start to win four straight before falling in the semifinals in its fourth game of the day Aug. 5.

“I was proud of them. They played good ball. They played good all-around ball,” said coach Baker.

After losses to teams from Kansas and Texas to start the tournament, Nationz found its groove and churned out a pool round win against KC Swish (Missouri) and playoff wins against the Texas Rebels Elite (82-72), Missouri’s SWMO Suns (72-60) and the Texas Blue Devils (74-69). The Oklahoma Honey Badgers finally cooled off Nationz with a 77-66 semifinal win.

“We sort of ran out of gas,” coach Baker said.

Central Kansas Elite won the tournament.

A Nationz team in the 8th grade division didn’t fare quite as well as the older group. The team, which included Brighton’s Nakai Alex, Ramon Baker, Dathen Garcia and Donovan Harris, went 0-4 with setbacks to teams from Illinois, Kansas and Texas.

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