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Florida teams shine at NABI

Native Soldiers coach Skyla Osceola talks to her team during a timeout of a semifinal game at the Native American Basketball Invitational in Phoenix on July 22, 2022. (Photo Mark Jones)

The Seminole Tribe’s Skyla Osceola is not through yet with making her mark as a basketball player, but she has already begun to compile an impressive coaching resume.


For the second year in a row, Osceola guided the Native Soldiers to the girls championship game at the Native American Basketball Invitational, one of Indian Country’s largest sporting events of the year.


The invitational, for Native youth ages 13-18, annually draws 64 girls teams and 64 boys teams to the Phoenix area.


Osceola played in NABI when she was younger, but never reached a championship game. The perks are high for the two boys and two girls teams that make it to the NABI championships. They get to play in the home arena of the NBA’s Suns and WNBA’s Mercury.


Last year, Native Soldiers didn’t get a chance to play the championship in the arena because of scheduling conflicts with the Suns being in the NBA Finals. This year the calendar was clear. In fact, an added caveat was the Mercury’s home game the night before the championship. The Mercury hosted Seattle in Sue Bird’s final regular season trip to Phoenix, which is home to her good friend Diana Taurasi. Osceola and her team attended the Mercury-Storm game and were honored at halftime in front of more than 14,000 fans at Footprint Center on what was also Native American Night.


In addition to taking in all the extracurricular activities, Osceola said she hopes her players also learned what the pinnacle of women’s basketball is all about.


“I just hope they got to see what the next elite level looks like,” she said.

Native Soldiers head coach Skyla Osceola talks to her team during a game at the Native American Basketball Invitational on July 22, 2022. Her father and assistant coach Marl Osceola is next to her. Hundreds of games were held throughout the Phoenix area. (Photo Mark Jones)


Less than 24 hours after the Mercury game, Osceola was coaching in the arena, getting a feel for the big time.


“It’s a super nice arena. It was a privilege to be able to coach in there where a lot of great players hoop in from WNBA to NBA,” she said.


Osceola’s team faced the Rezbombers from Arizona in the title tilt that was broadcast on ESPN+. After winning its first seven games, often by lopsided margins, Native Soldiers ran into an obstacle with a loss to the Rezbombers the day before the final.


The rematch was evenly played in the first half except for the final 90 seconds which the Native Soldiers would love to have back. The Rezbombers turned a one-point lead into a 11-point cushion at halftime and went on to post a 70-51 win.


Osceola described that late dry spell in the first half as a “good learning opportunity for both coaches and players; to look back and know how to handle those situations better.”


Still, being runner-up in a tournament that features a bevy of future college players culminated a strong week for Native Soldiers.


“We emphasized defense, rebounding, and out working people. If we can stop teams and push the ball, we knew we had a great chance of winning each game,” Osceola said.


Most of Native Soldiers’ roster came from tribes outside of Florida; Elsa Stier (Miccosukee) was the team’s lone player from Florida.


As for playing, Osceola said she is excited to be back on the women’s team at Nova Southeastern University, where she is a graduate student. Osceola had an outstanding freshman year in 2017-18 as she led the team in several categories, but she’s been plagued by injuries since then. She last played for the team in the 2019-20 season.


“I am extremely excited about [playing],” she said.

Similar to the Native Soldiers’ girls, the N2Deep boys team was unbeatable for the first few days. N2Deep won its first seven games, including a win against the Native Soldiers’ boys.


N2Deep was among the final eight teams left, but its deep run ended with consecutive losses.


The team was coached by Charlie Frye, who was assisted by Courtney Osceola. Some of the local players on the roster included Nakai Alex, Julez Billie, Chanon Frye and Xavier Osceola.

N2Deep breaks from a huddle at NABI on July 22, 2022. (Photo Mark Jones)
N2Deep’s Chanon Frye launches a long jump shot in a game at NABI in Phoenix on July 22, 2022. (Photo Mark Jones)
N2Deep’s Xavier Osceola attempts a tough shot in the lane during a NABI game July 22, 2022. (Photo Mark Jones)
N2Deep’s Nakai Alex drives to the hoop while avoiding a defender in a Native American Basketball Invitational game July 22, 2022, in Phoenix. (Photo Mark Jones)
N2Deep’s Chanon Frye rises above the defenders during a NABI game in Phoenix on July 22, 2022. (Photo Mark Jones)
N2Deep head coach Charlie Frye watches his team from the bench during a game at NABI on July 22, 2022. (Photo Mark Jones)
N2Deep assistant coach Courtney Osceola talks to her team during a game at NABI on July 22, 20022 (Photo Mark Jones)
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Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson is senior editor. He has worked for The Seminole Tribune since 2014. He was previously an editor, photographer and reporter for newspapers in Southwest Florida and Connecticut. Contact Kevin at kevinjohnson@semtribe.com.
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