The games for the 2014 Native American Basketball Invitational (NABI) took place July 1-5 at nine gyms across the Valley. Last year, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community member Sean Wood and his team, the AZ Warriors, played in the NABI championship game, where they came up short against a very good Alaskan team. This year, Wood and the Warriors looked to take what’s theirs and claim the Gold Division NABI championship.
However, a competitive match-up against an intertribal team from Florida made it a different story. Wood and the Warriors fell to the Rez Runners, 58-61. With a few seconds left in the game, Wood found himself with the ball and knew he had to shoot. Double-teamed and with nowhere to pass the ball, he shot a game-tying 3-pointer - bouncing off the rim, onto the backboard and off the rim again. The shot was an inch or two too far to the left.
“I knew we could come back, and we were. I was just hoping the ball would go in—it was really close,” explained Wood while he watched another game in the tournament. Wood always spoke in terms of the team and not only himself.
“We were expecting better competition as we got closer,” said Wood.
Now in his third year at NABI, Wood will have one more chance to play, seeking that championship game again next summer. Most of the Warriors’ talent will be moving on next year, as they will not make the age limit.
This year, adding another guard from Tohono O’odham and a power forward from Alaska, the Warriors still looked to be competitive, and they were defeating opponents by 30 points with ease. Wood explained that it’s difficult to find the time to build chemistry and practice together when everyone is playing in other tournaments or with other teams. He attributes his game mindset to coach Robert Johnson: “Playing for someone like Robert has taught me a lot. He taught me a lot about keeping your cool and focusing on strictly the game when you’re out there. Working hard is how you get here,” Wood said.
Earlier, the Warriors had demolished the AZ Natives 64-37, and perhaps they were a little too confident going into the next game. The Warriors found themselves scratching their heads as they saw the Rez Runners go on a 13-0 run to start the game. From there it was an uphill battle looking for missed opportunities to close the gap. With no answer to their opponent’s point guard, who racked up 23 points, all the Warriors could do was to keep playing their ball, but it was a minute too late.
Watching the next game from the stands, all Wood could say when asked for his final thought was, “Should have had it.”