Early in the morning on July 17, the temperature in Phoenix already had reached 92 degrees with ease, promising Valley residents another 100-plus-degree day. While most of the people in the sun-bathed city were just beginning their day, the 2013 Native American Basketball Invitational (NABI) Tournament kicked off its first round of games at seven different gyms in Phoenix and Scottsdale.
The tournament has Gold and Silver divisions for both boys and girls. The game format allows two 15-minute halves, with each quarter counting down from the eight-minute mark. The halftime period is five minutes.
Here is how the various teams with players from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community fared in the tournament.
AZ Lady Warriors
The inter-tribal team AZ Lady Warriors allowed only 4 points to be scored in their first game, against the Diné Warriors. The final score was 48-4. Head coach Jessica Scabby humbly said, “There are all levels of talent that play here in the tournament. Our bench is made up of all different levels of talent, too.”
For the AZ Lady Warriors, guard Jesse Poneoma was the offensive threat, logging 12 points, one rebound and five steals. Rachel Cooper led in rebounds, with six.
In the games that followed, the AZ Lady Warriors continued to punish their opponents, winning their games by an average of 30 points. They made it to the tournament’s Elite Eight, where they faced the Big Ballers from New Mexico, eventually losing 53-42.
The 2013 NABI champions in the Girls Gold Division were the 2012 defending champions, the Navajo team Lady Magic, who defeated the Big Ballers with a score of 38-56.
Wrapping up their appearance in the tournament just one win away from making it to the championship game, the SR Renegades have a lot to smile about. “I think we had a great tournament,” said Richard Ramirez, head coach. “There were a lot of great teams. I congratulate my girls for battling hard and making it to the Final Four.”
The SR Renegades put up impressive numbers in their first game, against the Lady Sioux. From there they continued to shut out their opponents, rebounding on both sides of the ball. The offensive threats included guards No. 24 Sofia Amaya and No. 3 Ashley Lomadaya.
Ramirez said he and the team are optimistic for next year’s tournament; they will be losing only one girl from this year’s roster. “Most of these girls have been playing together for a long time,” said Ramirez. In fact, for six years Ramirez and his Renegades have been competing for the NABI tournament title. With nearly their whole team returning and a majority of the girls from other teams leaving, the Gold Division title may be only a year away for the Renegades.
The Renegades lost in their Final Four game against Big Ballers, the same team that defeated the other girls’ team from Salt River, the AZ Lady Warriors. The final score against the Ballers was 49-38.
Salt River Warriors
The Salt River boys team competing in the Silver Division of the NABI tournament had a great run too, making it to the bracket play. Unfortunately, the run came up short, as they were knocked out on the first round by Team NWT, an inter-tribal team from Canada.
“I’m really proud of them; they worked their butts off,” said Coach Felix Muniz. “I was impressed with how mentally they were prepared. I think they turned a lot of heads, for being a bunch of eighth- and ninth-graders. They almost won their pool. They’ll be back next year.”
This year’s runner-up in the Boys Gold Division was the AZ Warriors, consisting of players from all over the Valley, including SRPMIC members. The AZ Warriors were undefeated going into the championship game Sunday evening, July 21, at the U.S. Airways Center.
Their road wasn’t an easy one.
Although the AZ Warriors were defeating their opponents by an average of 42 points in the bracket, their Final Four game against a very quick Northern Arizona Elite team took a toll. Injuries plagued the Warriors toward the end of the game, and earlier in the day, SRPMIC player No. 45 Sean Wood went down with a bad rolled ankle, having his playing time cut.
With less than a minute in the game, the Warriors hung tough and capitalized on their opponent’s penalties. In the end, they snuck by Northern Arizona Elite, 58-60, to move on to the championship game against Alaska.
Final Game: AZ Warriors vs. Alaska
Team Alaska, made up of players from Inuit nations throughout western Alaska, were what some called a Cinderella story. They didn’t defeat their prior opponents by outrageous numbers, and their players were average size, nobody would have guessed that they would be a threat past the Sweet 16.
“They just look like average boys playing rez ball,” said the MC for the NABI finals, Chance Rush. “They don’t look like much, but they’re hungry, you can see it in their eyes.”
In the beginning, the AZ Warriors were ahead and off to a good start, but late in the first half, the sleeping giant awoke and took the lead. With eight minutes left in the second half, Alaska was pulling away, with the score at 39-47. Capitalizing on poor passing and rebounding by the Warriors, Alaska didn’t look back. They ended the game with an exclamation mark by dunking the ball; the final score was 67-56.
“This win is so important to these boys, [and] I get the best seat in the house,” said Alaska’s head coach, Steve Craft smiling as he held the NABI championship trophy.
Team Alaska has been playing in the NABI tournament for five years, placing third in 2007. For Alaska guard No. 23 Anthony Ashby, playing at NABI was a special experience, as he has never traveled too far from his hometown, Noatak. Ashby is a Native of the Inupiaq Eskimo Nation.
“This [is] my first time here at NABI. It is very different from home,” Michael said. “I had fun playing with these guys. We never played together [before]. We went to Wet ’n’ Wild [in Glendale]; that was my favorite [activity]. We went to bed early last night so we could rest for today. It was a great experience.”
Sean Wood, a SRPMIC member and player for the AZ Warriors, said, “You have to be prepared mentally and physically. You have to be focused all weekend.
Eating right and going to bed on time are the two most important [ways to prepare yourself]. But you have to show up to the games on time, and even early, [up to] an hour. Our parents know we have to put in the time to come together. They put a lot of support in.”
In the championship game, Wood scored 20 points, 15 rebounds and four steals. He led the AZ Warriors in all categories, including field goals with 50 percent.