Robert Johnston, coach of the AZ Warriors 1 team, gathered 11 elite athletes from the surrounding area for the AZ Warriors 1 team in the Native American Basketball Invitational (NABI). Three Community members—Aaron Makil, Sean Wood and Stanford Vasquez—helped carry the team to a championship victory.
For 10 years now, Johnston has been participating in NABI. Throughout the 10 years, Johnston mentions making it to the arena three times. “The first time, we took third. The second time we took second,” said Johnston. This year, the team had hopes of making it to the championship game and winning it once more. The AZ Warriors 1 got their shot at winning. After a hard-fought battle, playing seven games and remaining undefeated, the AZ Warriors now have NABI championship bragging rights.
“To try to pick a standout game, it would have to be our first round tournament game against Ghost Horse Creek from Rockboy, Montana. They were a tough team, very physical and in my mind that was the toughest team we played in the tournament,” said Johnston.
“Coming into this tournament, I didn’t really know what to expect. We haven’t really been together as a team, but as soon as the tournament got started, we all connected; we all got along, and this was a fun ride,” said Makil, who has been a NABI participant for the past three years.
“The NABI tournament is a good experience to get better, and the team had good competition. We played some good teams and we beat them. Coming into this tournament, I didn’t know how we were going to do, but we had the potential to win it, and we won it this year,” said Vasquez, who has also participated in NABI for three years.
“It was a fun tournament. I think we were underestimated this year; I was in this position two years ago, so I think I wanted it more than anyone,” said Wood, who has participated in NABI for four years straight. Wood recently graduated and will be attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott. Wood will be playing on the university’s first-ever basketball team and is the first Community member to receive a full scholarship to play basketball.
When asked what advice they had for Community youth, all three players contributed to one answer: “It takes determination and hard work. With winning comes losing, and how you react to it will make you better.”
When asked what it took to win the championship title this year, Johnston responded with, “Our team really had to come together and support one another. What made this tournament kind of interesting was there was a lot of things going on with players and their families during that time. Other teams might see it as a distraction, but what made these boys special was they came together to support one another on and off the court. It helped build a bond and made them stronger throughout the tournament. The leadership that was displayed was tremendous.”
“This experience will help the players look forward to the upcoming season. It will also help them work a little harder, train a little harder, and invigorate themselves going into their senior year.”
“It was a great feeling. I think I felt more proud of the local tribes; Salt River, Fort McDowell, T.O., Whiteriver, San Carlos, Navajo, and others. I think the fact that we were an inter-tribal team of all local Arizona youth, they represented a lot of Arizona. We were the first Arizona team to win the championship in the boys division. In previous years, the assumption was that other states are going to win it, that changed. I felt really proud. I want to help motivate the younger generations to work harder and step-up,” added Johnston.
Pool Play Games:
AZ Warriors 1 vs NGA Hau E Wha, 61-26, win
AZ Warriors 1 vs T.O. Storm, 86-17, win
*2 wins get you into Gold Bracket
Gold Bracket Games:
AZ Warriors 1 vs Ghost Horse Creek, win
AZ Warriors 1 vs One Tribe, 61-39, win
Elite 8 Game:
AZ Warriors 1 vs Meskwaki Nations, 51-46, win
Final Four Game:
AZ Warriors 1 vs Brotherhood, 48-39, win
AZ Warriors 1 vs Northern Reign, 72-49, win