The Salt River Elite found themselves on an unexpected road to the 12th Annual Native American Basketball Invitational (NABI), held July 1-5 in various gyms throughout the Valley. This young team consisted of nine boys who came together and appointed Jeffrey Johnson, an assistant coach for the Salt River High School boys basketball team, as coach. Each player had hopes of challenging their skills and eventually working their way to the boys Gold Division bracket.
“This is our first year participating as a team. Seven of the boys played for [SRHS], and three of these boys will be returning to play varsity basketball,” said coach Johnson. “Our goal was just to be successful from the beginning and win as many games as we can. [We wanted] to come in, play basketball and have fun; that’s still our number one goal, to have fun.”
Of the nine players, seven played for the SRHS boys basketball team, and four of these seven are Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community members: Isaiah Manuel, Robert Norris, Peter Salcido, Jr., and Mahki Marcus.
Throughout the tournament, the Salt River Elite fell short, but they never gave up. Johnson gathered his team every chance he got to offer some tips and motivational words. He reminded the boys to play as a team, to communicate on the court and to think before following through with a play.
“It’s really all on them,” said coach Johnson when asked what his team would do differently to improve their next game. “I can say what we need to do as far as being a team; the adjustments to be made, what type of defense we need to run, but it’s all about the energy they bring, the commitment, are they willing to make those adjustments themselves, because I can’t play for them.
All the responsibility falls on them and me, but it’s up to them to really put it into action.”
The Salt River Elite was placed into the C-Pool play with three other teams: Thunderstorm (Blackfeet), Many Feathers (Oglala, Navajo) and Apsaalooke (intertribal). After losing three games in a row, the Elite ended up in the Silver Division bracket. Despite their losses, the boys had high hopes of becoming the Silver Division champions. Unfortunately, they lost to the C&A Respect, ending their 2014 NABI adventure.
“As far as our performance, it was up and down. The energy wasn’t there; you could tell we were really flat, especially from the beginning of warm up through the game, guys were out of shape and it wasn’t too good. But, for them to finish the game, that’s a plus for them,” said coach Johnson.
Salt River Elite vs. Thunderstorm, July 2, final score 29-47
Salt River Elite vs. Many Feathers, July 2, final score 28-78
Salt River Elite vs. Apsaalooke, July 3, final score 30-54
Salt River Elite vs. C&A Respect, July 3, final score 36-44