HOLLYWOOD — FL Noles guard Jerome Davis and Victorious Secret forward Jennera Bolin spent nearly the entire three-minute break between overtimes hunched over with their hands on their knees near midcourt. They chatted and tried to catch their breath toward the end of an exhaustive battle for the Native American Sports Association (NASA) men’s basketball championship.
Hosted by the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Recreation Department, the tournament drew 30 teams to the Hollywood Reservation Jan. 15-16 to vie for championships in men’s and women’s divisions and legends. The best game turned out to be the last one between the FL Noles and Victorious Secret with the men’s title up for grabs at the Howard Tiger Recreation Center.
After losing its first game in the 16-team bracket, the FL Noles, filled with Seminoles, displayed plenty of resilience and endurance by reeling off six straight do-or-die wins within 26 hours to reach the final. But the uphill climb for the FL Noles was far from over. In order to claim the title, they needed to beat Victorious Secret, from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (MBCI), twice.
The FL Noles accomplished the first part of their mission with a 55-47 win, but Victorious Secret captured the winner-take-all game, 67-66, in a grueling double overtime thriller. Players from both sides played either the entire games or nearly every minute because the teams only had one substitute each.
“Honestly, it was like the hardest thing I’ve ever went through; I never played two overtimes like that in a championship game,” said Victorious Secret’s Trent Thompson. “We actually never got this far anywhere; it’s surreal. I would be crying, but I’m too old for that.”
Thompson, 22, a Cheyenne and Arapaho who lives in Mississippi, made the 1,000-mile trip to Hollywood with his teammates from MBCI.
“It’s a long drive [back] to Mississippi. It’s going to be worth it,” said Thompson, who scored a game-high 26 points in the deciding game. The champions also received 15 points from Isiah Lewis and 12 points – all on 3-pointers – from Brison LaSarge.
In the first game, the teams were knotted at 35-35 with 15 minutes left before the FL Noles surged ahead thanks to a 3-pointer from guard Josh Boromei, an underhanded layup between two defenders by Ethan Cypress and a layup from Ty Pierce.
Pierce took command of the game in the second half when he scored 10 points and grabbed several rebounds. Pierce and Cypress finished with a team-high 15 points each. Dougie Sanders sank four 3-pointers for his 12 points and Jerome Davis scored nine points.
In the second game, both sides showed signs of weariness. Early shots hit the front of the rims, but Sanders still flashed a smooth touch. He found the net with a pair of 3-pointers and another one from Boromei staked the FL Noles to a 10-point lead that was trimmed to seven points by halftime.
A basket by Cypress, on a nifty feed from Pierce, gave the FL Noles a 32-21 lead early in the second half before Victorious Secret responded with a 21-7 spurt to pull ahead as the heavyweight scorecard went back and forth.
Sharp shooting from Pierce and Cypress helped the FL Noles regain the lead. Pierce’s 3-pointer gave his team a 51-48 lead. Moments later, a layup from Cypress, a senior at Hollywood Hills High School, made it 53-48 lead with 1:40 left.
Another layup by Cypress made it 55-51 with under 60 seconds left, but a 3-pointer from LaSarge and a layup from Lewis with 25 seconds left put Victorious Secret in front by one point.
Pierce sent the game into overtime with a free throw with nine seconds left.
Both teams scored seven points in the first overtime that remained close for all four minutes. The FL Noles’ scoring came from Cypress, Boromei and Pierce.
In the second overtime, Sanders, playing with a noticeable limp that forced him out of the game earlier, made a pair of free throws to knot the score at 65-65 with one minute left. Cypress drew a foul and made one free throw to put the FL Noles in front, but with 18 seconds left Lewis made two free throws and an ensuing turnover by FL Noles sealed the victory for Victorious Secret.
Cypress finished with a team-high 22 points followed by Pierce with 18 and Boromei with 13.
Before playing in the epic championship, Boromei, Cypress, Pierce and Sanders scored in double figures in a 63-49 win that eliminated fellow Seminoles from the SSJ Squad in the final of the losers’ bracket.
“It was a rough one, but it was close,” said Sanders, who lit up the Classic Gym with four 3-pointers. “We kept shooting and knocking down our shots. They had good [defense], but we broke them down with our shots and was able to penetrate and came out with the win. It’s always rivalry time when we play against them.”
The Seneca Chiefs, from the Buffalo, New York area, proved to be the class of the five-team men’s legends division for ages 40 and up.
The Chiefs won the title with a 3-0 record, which included a 71-41 win against the Mississippi Legends in the championship. Terry Garrow led the Chiefs with 16 points, which included four 3-pointers. Clint Jones contributed 13 points and Angel Cortes pumped in 11 points.
The Chiefs used their trip through the winners’ bracket to their advantage against the Legends, which came out of the losers’ side.
“When you have to come in the back end of these tournaments – you’ve got to play three games in like six hours – it’s pretty hard on the body, especially when you’re 40-plus,” Garrow said. “We just came out and ran them, and that’s the reason we won. We had more legs than they did.”
The hometown favorite Hollywood Heat didn’t reach the title game and finished 0-2 but still enjoyed playing in their backyard.
“It’s fun. We keep it fun,” said Heat guard Kenny Tommie, who grew up playing basketball on the reservation. “We used to play in the old gym and we used to play on the outside court before the gym was built.”
In their first game, the Heat fell behind the Mississippi Legends 9-0 and trailed all game. The Heat closed to within four points with three minutes left on a 3-pointer from Charlie Tiger, but the Legends pulled away for a 49-34 win.
In addition to Tommie and Tiger, the Heat included Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola, Vincent Billie, Edwin Garcia, Wes Garcia, Norman Huggins, Rob Landon, Mike Primus, Alfonso Tigertail and Shawn Willie.
The Heat’s other loss came against the Seminoles, which lost a tight game to Seneca, 46-38, in the tournament opener. The Seminoles were led by Preston Baker with 11 points followed by Chris Thomas (7 points), Jason Don Billie (6 points) and Clyde Tiger (6 points).