CHOCTAW, Miss. — No Seminole teams shined brighter at the Native American Youth Organization basketball tournament than the girls’ Native Elite and Native Hoops.
In a division that featured 20 teams, Native Elite made it all the way to the championship game in the 12-14 age group. They finished runner-up. Meanwhile, the older Seminole girls overcame plenty of adversity to produce an inspirational run as Native Elite earned third place in the 15-17 division out of 17 teams.
A strong turnout of more than 70 teams, including 50 from the host Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, filled four gymnasiums March 24-26 for the double-elimination tournament. Girls games were played on MBCI’s reservation in Choctaw; the boys played about 20 miles away in Carthage.
Native Elite used physical defense under the boards and balanced scoring to win five games, but ran into MBCI’s powerful and undefeated Rainmakers that dealt the Seminole squad its only two losses, including 40-26 in the championship at Choctaw Central High School.
The runner-ups included Alexis Foreman, Charli Frye, Amarys Huggins, Buddha Jumper, Madelyn Osceola, Talia Rodriquez, Alena Stockton, December Stubbs and Tiana Stubbs.
Making it the farthest of any Seminole team in the tournament made the 15-hour drive back home a little more relaxing.
“It means a lot to the team,” said Native Elite coach Ashley Wilcox, who was assisted by Charlie Frye. “We traveled a long way. They played hard. They played against the refs and the (other) team.”
In the 15-17 division, Native Hoops had a wild journey on its way to third place. They accumulated plenty of memories along the way, including playing with just six players in its first game because a snow storm delayed the arrival of forward Audrey Whitegrass, and finishing the tournament again with a half-dozen because of an ejection to high-scoring point guard Shae Pierce. In between, there were injuries, an overtime, an impressive stretch of six straight wins in the losers bracket and a serene final minute to a game that was interrupted when officials cleared the gym of spectators.
Native Hoops’ losers bracket game against Smokin’ Hot, from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, was already at a fervent pitch thanks to what was at stake: winner advances, loser goes home. The intensity meter increased a few notches early in the second half when Shae, who scored 22 points in a victory earlier in the day, and an opponent dove for a loose ball. The officials apparently didn’t like Shae’s slight shove in the battle and ejected her for the remainder of the game and the following game.
“That was a huge loss for us,” Native Hoops forward Skyla Osceola said. “She really helps me out, taking care of the ball and making passes. I know we all had to step up, and we all stepped up together because we wanted to win.”
Native Hoops led by five points at the time of the incident, but was forced to play the final 17 minutes without their point guard.
Despite the adversity, Native Hoops didn’t wilt. Saige Osceola drained a 3-pointer for a 28-22 lead. Audrey had a block and converted a put back and short jumper to help maintain a small lead, but Smokin Hot rallied to go in front by one. Just after a basket by Skyla put Native Hoops ahead 35-34 with 1:10 left, things turned ugly in the bleachers. After officials ejected one spectator, a few others became involved in shouting matches. When one fan shoved another, officials decided they had seen enough and emptied the gymnasium of all 300 or so fans. Only the players, coaches and personnel remained, which meant the final 60 seconds was played in near silence.
Fans or no fans, it didn’t matter to Native Hoops. Saige forced a turnover on a baseline inbounds pass and Sydnee Cypress made a steal with 13 seconds left. Skyla grabbed a rebound at one end and hit two free throws at the other to preserve the entertaining 38-34 win.
More drama followed Native Hoops in its next game, but they were eliminated by Lady Ballerz, 40-38, in overtime. In the second half, Skyla and Audrey were helped off the court by Seminole Fire and Rescue personnel, but both showed plenty of determination by returning to action. A steal by Saige and a layup by Lahna Baker tied the game with 70 seconds left, but Lady Ballerz made late free throws to advance.
Although she could barely walk at one point, Skyla epitomized the spirit of the squad as she continued to grab rebounds and be a force at both ends in the second half.
“Skyla was incredible; all the ladies were incredible,” said Native Hoops coach Andrew Jordan Bowers. “I know they were out of gas, but they were putting their heart out there on the line. I was very proud of them. They definitely persevered through some adversity the whole time.”
Skyla’s strong performance came as she is rebounding from a torn ACL that forced her to miss her junior season at American Heritage School in Plantation.
“I’m just getting back into it, but it feels great,” Skyla said.
The 15-17 division was captured by MBCI’s Team Tenacity, which featured Dalmericka King, a Seminole who earned several honors – including Big Smoky Mountain Conference Player of the Year – as a junior this season at Cherokee High School in North Carolina.
On the boys side, Seminoles met Seminoles in a 12-14 losers bracket game. Tribesmen, coached by Preston Baker, faced off against Native Runners, coached by Kenny Tommie.
When Cedric Martin hit a 3-pointer, the Native Runners trailed only 34-29, but the Tribesmen seized command the rest of the way and went on a stunning 26-0 spurt led by guard Silas Madrigal, who was unstoppable as he scored 11 consecutive points during the stretch. He finished with a game-high 20 points followed by Alyke Baker with 13. Robert Harris and Kamani Smith were dominant forces on the boards, and Jaylen Baker proved to be elusive in the lane as he made several layups. Todd Pierce’s crisp shooting also proved to be tough to defend throughout the tournament.
Native Runners started the tournament with a loss, but bounced back with a win against MBCI’s Minions behind a bevy of 3-pointers from Cedric, Krishawn Henry, Daewon Huggins and Ezekiel Tiger.
“A lot of improvement, a lot of playing together, a lot of defense, staying with the game plan, and passing the ball better,” Tommie said.
In the 15-17 division, Lost Tribe received 13 points from Isaac Osceola and 12 points from Chase Osceola in a win against an Iroquois squad.
Alonzo Wargolet had the hot hand early with a bunch of 3-pointers in the Seminole Warriors’ loss to MBCI’s Running Rebels.
2016 NAYO Basketball Tournament Winners
1. Rainmakers – Choctaw
2. Native Elite – Seminoles
3. Nation 1 – Choctaw
1. Crazy Nation – Cherokee
2. Hawks – Choctaw
3. Hurricanes – Choctaw
1. Team Tenacity- Choctaw
2. Lady Ballerz – Choctaw
3. Native Hoops – Seminoles
1. Angry Ducks – Choctaw
2. Seneca Chiefs – IAC
3. Braves – Cherokee