The 10th annual Native American Basketball Invitational (NABI) basketball tournament took place July 11-15 at multiple gyms throughout the Valley. Several teams from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community took part.
The days were filled with fast-paced rez ball, with boys and girls competing in different brackets. The competitive tournament drew fans from all over the state and many from out of state as well, even as far away as Montana. Each team played three games in their division, followed by a boys and girls Gold and Silver pool single-elimination bracket that led the teams to the championship titles.
In the five-day tournament, 112 boys and girls basketball teams played games at locations throughout the Phoenix metro area, including on the Community. Three girls teams and one boys team represented the SRPMIC: the Salt River Warriors, Lady Warriors II, Salt River Renegades and Salt River Lady Warriors.
The Salt River Warriors
The Salt River Warriors was a young team this year, all incoming sophomores or juniors and only one senior.
Felix Muniz, coach of the Salt River Warriors and assistant coach at Salt River High School, said during the year it was hard to get this team together for practice, either because of club ball or other activities. “At times we had like five or six players, but really our team consisted of 12,” he said.
When NABI came, they finally got everyone together for this tournament and quickly put in a week of practice. “Which wasn’t that much,” said Muniz, “but it helped a lot for the games.”
The Warriors started off well, beating a team from northern Arizona, but the next game was against a tough team from North Dakota that ended up making it to the final four. The North Dakota team was up by 20 points in the first five minutes of the game.
“It was hard for the team because this was an early game for us that started at eight in the morning,” Muniz said.
Then “We played [the] Montana Blackfeet, which was also a tough one, but we all came together very well,” said Muiz. In that game the Warriors won by 22 points, 59-37. That team almost beat the North Dakota team that they had just played.
Muniz said the Warriors could have very easily gone 3-0 if they had just stayed focused. They ended up getting in the boys Gold Division single-elimination bracket as the No. 2 seed in their pool.
In that first game, the Warriors played a team from Alaska. They came out slow and were down 15, then came back to take the lead. Then both teams were trading baskets. Eventually the Warriors got fouled with .07 seconds left; the team was down by 2 points and was out.
“Overall it was a good experience. Everyone was talking about us and wondering where we came from,” said Muniz proudly about his team.
“It’s not the teams with the best players that win NABI, it’s the best teams that win, and this was our first time to play as a team. Next year we should have a shot. This year they had fun and they were fun to coach.”
The Lady Warriors II
The Lady Warriors II comprised 11 girls, nine of whom attend Salt River High School and play on the Lady Eagles basketball team. “Originally we were not going to put in a team, but since the girls asked, I was willing to coach them,” said coach Shawn Lytle.
“They really stepped up in a tough pool play. They went up 2-0 and advanced to the Gold bracket,” he said. There were 48 teams in the girls bracket, and the Lady Warriors made the top 24.
“The team that we beat in our second game was in the semifinals of the Silver bracket, so our bracket was pretty tough,” said Lytle. “But I think the girls had a good time.”
Lytle said the team needed a little adjusting back to rez ball, but overall they did great.
Salt River Renegades
The Salt River Renegades won their first game against Thoze Girls, 55-34. In their second game, they won 43-35 against Alaska Elite. They lost their third game to the Lady Lobos. During that game the Renegades started out slow and were down in the first quarter. After halftime, the Renegades fought their way back to only 2 points down in the final five minutes, but the Lobos kept their lead and won by four points, 30-34.
“This was an early game, and the girls started out slowly but in the second half we started to wake up,” said Robert Ramirez, the head coach. “If we were awake and alive from the beginning, I think we would have won. In the first game the girls shot well, everyone shot well; I think the shooting needs to come back and we will be able to advance in the tournament.”
Unfortunately, that evening the Renegades lost their first girls Gold Division single-elimination bracket game against Team AZ, losing their shot at the NABI championships.
Salt River Lady Warriors
The Salt River Lady Warriors won three straight games. In their first game they played against Hualapai, winning by 54 points, 73-19. Their second game was a win by forfeit; they were scheduled to play Cheyenne-Arapaho. In their third game in the girls division they took the win against Lady Blackfeet, 53-29.
“So far we’ve been doing pretty good. The girls won all their games in the pool, so we’re waiting to find out what happens in the single-elimination tournament,” said Robert Johnston, the Lady Warriors’ head coach, after the first round of play. “We’re here just to have fun and get the girls out there, and hopefully some scouts will come out and see these girls and want them to come play for their colleges. They play good solid defense and are able to get some points in our changes, but every game we learn something new about this team so we’re looking forward to it.”
The Lady Warriors moved on to the girls Gold Division single-elimination bracket, playing against the Lady Cats from Texas. Throughout the game, the Lady Warriors would take the lead while the Lady Cats played catch-up. For every score the Lady Cats made, the Lady Warriors in turn made sure to score double, doing their best not to let them catch up, as they frequently watched the clock and each other throughout the game.
The Lady Warriors won the game 49-24, a victory for Salt River as they progressed up the bracket to the final rounds.
The Lady Warriors made it up to the Saturday-evening game, but at the end they came up against some tough competitors, the New Mexico Spears from Shiprock. The Spears were behind most of the game but made a turnaround and ended up winning, 48-33. The Lady Warriors were out of the tournament.
Throughout most of their games the Lady Warriors took the lead and had other teams doing their best to catch up. They displayed great sportsmanship in plays and passing the ball around.
The New Mexico Spears went on to play in the championship game against Lady Magic of St. Michaels, Arizona. Lady Magic won 62-52, taking the championship title in the girls Gold Division. The Cheyenne-Arapaho team from Oklahoma won the Boys Gold Division Championship.
NW Hoops won the Girls Silver Division Championship title and the Wind River Boys won the Boys Silver Division Championship.