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Formation of all-Native pro team excites veteran players

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Jay Liotta receives a pass during a tryout for a new all-Native American basketball team in the American Basketball Association. The team is scheduled to play its first game in early November.

HOLLYWOOD — A trio of 30-somethings brought more than their gym bags to the Howard Tiger Recreation Center in August. After sweating through an upbeat morning of shooting and passing drills, the three players shared their enthusiasm about being part of a local all-Native American professional basketball team set to debut this fall in the American Basketball Association (ABA).

“I’m just excited for the opportunity to try to be part of the first Native ABA professional basketball team,” said Jim Archambault, 31, of the Standing Rock Sioux in the Dakotas. “I’ve always known Indians could compete on a higher level than they get a chance to. Now we can prove we can play with players of a higher caliber.”

Officials for the team, whose name has yet to be announced, said six players attended the first day of a two-day tryout session Aug. 12-13 at the Hollywood gym. On day two, Archambault joined fellow candidates Jay Liotta and Jesse Heart for half-court drills led by team administrator Federico Brodsky.

“It’s the first all-Native American ABA team, which is mind-blowing to me to be part of something special and making history,” said Liotta, 36, a Comanche who grew up in Oklahoma City.

Liotta and Archambault are brothers-in-law who live on the Miccosukee Reservation. Both are veterans of tournament basketball throughout Indian Country. They are eager to face non-Indian competition, especially on a pro level in a 95-team league that spans coast to coast.

“Instead of battling against each other, we get to put all our talents together,” Liotta said. “When we do that, that’s when we jell and create a monster team.”

According to the ABA’s website, the league includes former NBA, college and international players.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how we’re going to do,” said Archambault, who played for United Tribes Technical College in North Dakota. “We will be competitive. It’s just a matter of seeing how many people we can get to buy into the team concept and not be worried about themselves, make the extra pass, take a charge, sacrifice the body because that’s what it’s going to take to play on a higher level.”

The players pointed to the Schimmel sisters and the University of Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig as success stories that have garnered well-deserved adoration in the Native American community.

“There’s a lot of talent out there in Indian Country that doesn’t get exposed,” Liotta said. “This is an opportunity for those who can play to showcase their skills on a higher level.”

Heart hopes to showcase his skills with the Native team in any capacity needed. The 6-foot-4 forward from the Oglala Sioux in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, moved to the Hollywood Reservation earlier this year.

“This is an opportunity for all the best Natives,” he said. “We know everybody. I’ve been playing for years. I’m 35. I told them if anything I could be a good recruiter. I can still play, but Father Time is against me.”

Team officials said the coming weeks will include practices and perhaps additional tryouts. A previous tryout session was held in New Mexico. The team’s first game Nov. 7 is scheduled to be a home game at a site to be determined.

 

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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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