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Hoopsters gain experience at NAYO

CHEROKEE, N.C. — Next year Seminole youth basketball players won’t have to travel nearly as far as they did for this year’s Native American Youth Organization (NAYO) Basketball Tournament.

The Tribe will host the 2015 edition in Hollywood. Recreation director Richard Blankenship said about 50 teams are expected to participate.

Six Seminole teams with about 70 boys and girls competed in this year’s NAYO tournament April 18-19 in Cherokee, N.C. The 800-mile trip to the western part of the Tar Heel state turned out to be a quick one for most Seminole teams. Only one – the Seminole Rec I boys squad – advanced past the first day of the double-elimination tournament.

Coached by Charles Fisher, Buildings and Grounds facilities assets coordinator, Seminole Rec I split its first two games on day one in the 14-and-under division before being eliminated early in the second day.

“It was a very competitive tournament,” said Fisher, who was assisted by coach Al McGriff. “Our kids were a little nervous the first game. The second game they shook off their nervousness. They shot the ball well and played very good defense.”
Newly formed, Seminole Rec I only had three practices before the tournament, none of which featured the entire team. Fisher said he was pleased with how quickly the unit became cohesive at the tournament.

“The more we played together, the better we looked. I was impressed with their unselfishness and they were very resilient. They wouldn’t give up,” said Fisher, a 1983 Philadelphia 76ers draft choice and former point guard for James Madison University.
Seminole Rec I received strong guard play from Hollywood brothers Daniel and Francisco Rodriguez. Daniel led the squad in several facets. He averaged 18.5 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists per game. Valuable contributions also came from Francisco, who averaged 17.5 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

Other top scorers included Ricky Garza (11 ppg), Chaska Osceola (six ppg), Issiah Alvarado (six ppg) and Jason Sanders (five ppg). Helping out on the boards were Reginald Ling, who averaged seven rebounds per game, and Ethan Balentine and Brandon Williams, who both hauled in an average of four rebounds.

Some elite teams in the tournament came from the Choctaw and Cherokee Tribes.
“We’re playing against Tribes with much larger populations than we have,” Blankenship said.

Although Seminole teams didn’t return with a championship, Blankenship said the trip was a good experience for the players.

“It’s all about the journey, not about the losses or wins. Everybody was well-behaved and everybody had a good time,” he said.

Some players were back on the hardwood at the Hollywood Gym the day after returning home. Forward Tanier Gore, 11, said his team lost one game by 20 points.
“They were better than us, but not a lot better,” he said.

Seminole youngsters will be back in North Carolina July 17-20 for the NAYO baseball and softball tournaments.

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