HOLLYWOOD – A year from now, dozens of Native American youth basketball teams will come to Florida when the Seminole Tribe hosts the 2019 NAYO Basketball Tournament.
If the turnout resembles anything close to this year’s event – held March 29 to 31 in Cherokee, N.C. – then it will be a busy, basketball packed few days.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians welcomed nearly 70 teams which vied for championships in two girls and two boys divisions: 12 to 14 and 15 to 17.
“We had like 10 that came from Florida. New York brought seven. Choctaw brought 33 teams. The rest came from Cherokee,” said Salina Dorgan, of Brighton Recreation and the NAYO board. “I know a lot of them are preparing to come to Florida. A lot of the Tribes have been contacting me and asking about the area where we’re going to have it so they can start their fundraisers to get their teams here.”
The double-elimination format was held at three venues amid the Smoky Mountains on the three days prior to Easter Sunday.
The best showing from a Florida team came from the Tribesmen, whose players are from the Brighton Reservation, Okeechobee and Fort Pierce. Loaded with quick guards who used their speed advantage at both ends of the court, the Tribesmen finished third out of 15 teams in the boys 12 to 14 age division. Coached by Preston Baker, the Tribesmen dropped their first game but then made a strong run with five straight wins to reach the final of the losers’ bracket where they were ousted by Tune Squad from Choctaw, Miss., 56-50.
The Tribesmen were more than willing to push the tempo. As soon as they grabbed rebounds, they were off to the races.
“We don’t have to wait on the big man to get back down court. We’re fast. We don’t give the defense time to set up. We rest on offense,” Baker said.
Roger Walter was the Tribesmen’s top scorer in the tournament. He poured in 28 points and 21 points in a pair of the wins. Nikai Alex made four 3-pointers in one game. One of the defensive highlights in the tournament was a steal by Dakoya Nunez in the final second to preserve a two-point win.
In the boys 15 to 17 division, Savage Storm, coached by Steve Frost, went 2-2, which included a 63-51 win against FL Canes in a matchup between two Florida teams. D’Von LaPointe, a standout for Nebraska state runner-up Winnebago High School, led Savage Storm with 24 points. Micah Lena, who scored 65 points in a high school game this winter in Oklahoma, contributed 15 points for the winners who also received seven points from Silas Madrigal and six points from Cisco Rodriguez. Daewon Huggins was the Canes’ top scorer with 17 points. Cedric Martin drained four 3-pointers for his 12 points and Keyunte Fuller also scored a dozen.
Savage Storm was up 36-28 at halftime. The Canes drew to within 39-36 in the second half before Savage Storm pulled away.
The Canes, coached by Amos Huggins, finished with a 1-2 record. Savage Storm was eliminated in the following game by the Seneca Chiefs, 65-44. LaPointe scored 20 points followed by Lena (12), Rodriguez (6) and Madrigal (5).
Earlier in the tournament, Savage Storm staved off elimination in dramatic fashion at Cherokee High School. They trailed by five points with less than 20 seconds left before LaPointe made a 3-point play and then, following a turnover, hit a game-tying layup to force overtime. Early in the extra session, baskets from Ricky Garza and Jaylen Baker put Savage Storm ahead for good. In the final minute, LaPointe went 4-for-4 from the line and finished with 29 points, and Michael Harvey made two free throws to cap the 82-78 victory.
“They don’t panic,” Frost said after the game. “We had to make some big free throws at the end.”
On the girls side, Swoopz, coached by Steve’s wife Theresa Frost, finished 2-2 with wins against Lady NDNS and Seneca Storm.
Caroline Sweat’s 14 points led Swoopz to a 50-25 win against Seneca. In their final game, Swoopz received 11 points from Lexi Foreman, nine from Burgundy Pierce and five from Charli Osceola.
Foreman, a Seminole Tribe of Florida Tribal member from Oklahoma, earned a starting spot at forward on the Anadarko High School varsity team as a freshman this season. She helped the team reach the state quarterfinals.
As the team huddled moments after its final game, Frost praised the girls for their effort.
“As long as you give your best, that’s all we ask. I wouldn’t have to ask that, they do it naturally,” she said.
Other Florida teams and their records included Dreamcatchers (1-2) and Lady Seminoles (0-2) in the 15 to 17 girls division; PECS (0-2) in the girls 12 to 14 division; Unconquered (0-2) in the boys 12 to 14 division; and Seminole Heat (1-2) in the boys 15 to 17 division.
Choctaw teams made it a clean sweep by winning championships in all four divisions: Rainmakers (15-17 girls), Chaos (12-14 girls), 1 Family (15-17 boys) and Tune Squad (12-14 boys).
Before hosting next year’s tournament, the Tribe will see plenty of action on its ball fields and beyond as the NAYO baseball/softball tournament will be held in Hollywood from July 19 to 21.