"For a group of Potawatomi basketball players, the Native American Basketball Invitational (NABI) in Phoenix, Arizona, didn’t have the expected results, but they had the satisfaction of knowing they had played hard and by the rules – the wins and losses were what they were.
But, first a weather and a people report. The summer months of Arizona can see temperatures rise to 122 degrees, but it was only about 109 degrees on average the days the kids were there, and for sure the heat could take your breath away. The kids would find out why people vacation in Phoenix in the winter time.
There were close to 95 Indian boys and girls teams from all over the States and Canada. The kids were high school age and were very young looking. It made a person wonder about their home lives, where they came from, how they live on their rez, their home environment, their trials and tribulations, what the future holds for them and what they had to do in order to get to Phoenix to play basketball. All that aside, they were the best from their reservations and that counts. Now back to basketball.
Clearly, for the Kansas teams five wins and three losses is not a bad effort considering the competition level. Going into the tournament, of the two teams the girl’s team, called Kansas Hoop n’ It, was projected to go further in the tournament. They had done well in previous tournaments in Oklahoma and Kansas City. With the addition of two guards from Oklahoma, the guard situation had stabilized in those tournaments and it was easier to break the full-court press. In the game of basketball, as the competition gets better the full-court press kicks in more. The top team’s employed this concept for quick scores and, of course, wins.
In addition, the front-line for the team included a solid and experienced group. They were led by Tara Mitchell, Lois Stevens, Kiti Mirada and backed up by Sydney Jessepe. But, even the best laid plans can go astray. One of the point guards didn’t show up and that absence came back to haunt the team. The girls did open the tournament pool play with a convincing 58-39 victory over an Arizona team, but the bottom fell out after that. The full-court press of the next two opponents caused turnover after turnover leading to two losses in pool play and eventual elimination from the tournament. They lost out advancing to the single elimination portion of the tournament by only a few points.
Tara Mitchell, who will play college ball in Kansas City next year led the girl’s team in scoring with 20 points a game and had a high game of 26 points against a team from Salt River, Arizona. Lois Stevens will play for Haskell Indian Nations University next fall. Other scorers were Kiti Mirada with a 7.1 ppg and Sydney Jessepe scored 7 points a game. Other Kansas Hoop n’ It team members were: Ashton Tiger who will play at Oklahoma Baptist University; Mona Nozhackum, Kendra Haag and Cham Pahmahmie. The girls were coached by Charles Nez and Melissa Haag. The team also watched the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA play the San Antonio Silver Stars at U.S. Airways Center and were given the opportunity to listen to Diana Taurasi, a star of the Phoenix Mercury team.
The boy’s team called the Kansas Kings, won pool play victories over a team from North Carolina 75-46; 68-46 over the P.S. Warriors (AZ); 72-64 over Native Warriors; 58-52 over the Arizona Boys and lost to a team from Oklahoma, 90-67, made up of Sequoyah High School players, who had won a state championship. This team called “For the Love of the Game” eventually took second place in the tournament losing to the Cheyenne Arapahoe team also from Oklahoma 74-66. The Kansas Kings achieved the honor of getting into the final eight in a 50 –team tournament.
They were led by Jordon Kapayou, an excellent player who will play at Haskell next year. Jordon averaged 22.2 points per game with a high of 26 points. David Martin scored 14.6 points per game and is only a sophomore at Jackson Heights next year. His high game was 21 points. Kwaki Hale averaged 8.4 points per game and Shawn Keich averaged 7.8 points per game. William Evans scored 6.8 points per game while providing a strong rebounding presence for the team. Other members of the team were B.J. Fasthorse; Tony Grier; Nyeh Washkeh Littleaxe; Evan Evans and Authi Parker. The boy’s team was coached by Shane Negonsett and junior manager Isiah Potts.
The experience of playing this type of competition will only help each player in the long run. Now they know what they have to do to improve and what they have to do next time they face this type of competition. They represented the Potawatomi well. College recruiters were there and made contacts with many of the players, so the exposure factor can lead to better things for these players.
Spending a week in Phoenix, Arizona didn’t come cheap. Joanna Mitchell, Doris Potts, Voncile Mitchell, Lindy Tecumseh, Frank Parker and many others worked extraordinarily hard to raise money at food stands and raffles to make it all possible. Family support is alive and well on the Potawatomi reservation. In addition, many kind sponsors, including the tribe, stepped up and made generous donations and many more Potawatomi tribal members bought raffle tickets. Not enough thanks can be said to all these people.
What all that hard work and generosity translated into was the experience of a lifetime for the kids. Now it’s time to start working for next year’s NABI or the Indigeneous Games in Canada. And, why not? Our kids are worth it."