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Aiyana Rodriguez, West Craven High School Eagles point guard. Submitted Photo

Taking a Little Bit of “Rez Ball” to North Carolina

Aiyana Rodriguez, 16, started her basketball career on the courts in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. The young Community member’s love for basketball has taken her many places, turned friends into family and, most recently, earned her the title Female Athlete of the Week.

As a junior, Rodriguez is one of the team captains and the starting point guard for the West Craven High School Eagles in New Bern, North Carolina, about 2,000 miles across the country. Rodriguez is the daughter of Community member Kendra Rodriguez and Adam Rodriguez. She is the granddaughter of Community members Laverna Manuel and Cliffton Manuel.

When her family moved from Arizona and Nevada to North Carolina, Rodriguez went from playing for the Westwood Warriors in Mesa to playing for the much smaller West Craven Eagles, going on two years now.

Her coaches, Lea Wedesky and Antwon Pittman, the school’s athletic director and the New Bern Sun Journal newspaper nominated Rodriguez as Female Athlete of the Week in January. This is an honor that Rodriguez doesn’t take lightly and sees as a way to inspire others.

“I was surprised and very happy,” she said. “It is a great honor to even be recognized for being a leader and sacrificing what I could along with pushing and motivating my team. Numbers and stats don’t matter to me; it’s what impact I make for [my team] as a leader and teammate.”

Rodriguez started playing basketball at age 7, when her dad used to coach club teams when they lived in Arizona. She soon found herself playing with area teams like Run-N-Gun, coached by Ephraim Sloan, and the Lady Warriors, coached by Robert Johnston.

Rodriguez cherishes the bond she had with her former teammates, Justine Cooper, Mariana Porter and Maggie Makil. She also took what her former coaches taught her and used this to become the basketball player she is today.

“I know they’re doing really good,” she said about her former team. “I miss them and I miss playing rez ball. There’s a really big difference between rez ball and playing out here. Rez ball is a lot more competitive—it’s a lot of fun. Out here, it’s a controlled game. Rez ball is what I love playing.”

Aiyana Rodriguez is the starting point guard and a team captain for the Lady Eagles. Submitted Photo.
Although her team didn’t do very well this season, she took it upon herself to inspire and motivate her team. She averaged 4.5 points, 1.8 assists and 2.7 steals per game.

When asked who her role model is, she said, “I have two: my dad, [because] he is the one who taught me the game of basketball, coached me and still coaches me to this day; and Ephraim Sloan, who has made a huge impact on my life. He taught me a lot. To me, he’s family now.”

Rodriguez has dreams of playing college basketball. “I want to go to the University of North Carolina, go back home to Arizona State University, or go to North Carolina State for veterinarian school and basketball,” she said.

Aiyana Rodriguez played with local basketball team Run-N-Gun.
Rodriguez hopes to make it back home for the Native American Basketball Invitational this July and to spend time with her grandmother and family here in Salt River.

She said, “Salt River is my home. I miss it all the time.”