Rezball is in the limelight with this past weekend’s kickoff of the Native American Basketball Invitational, (NABI) the largest Native basketball tournament in North America and the premier all-Native youth basketball tournament in the world.
“We have 128 teams lined up, 64 boy squads and 64 girls teams, totaling as many as 1,600 teenage Native athletes,” says Angelo Johnson (San Carlos Apache/Tohono O’odham/Hopi), a long-time volunteer now serving as NABI Program Events Coordinator.
“It’s a crazy, fun time,” says Johnson. “Last year we had over 280 tribes represented with teams from Canada, Alaska, Florida, Oklahoma, all over the nation. There were less than a dozen states that weren’t represented.”
The season 14 year takes place in Maricopa, Arizona, home of the Ak-Chin Indian Community. The tournament will be played on six gym floors at the Ak-Chin and Gila River recreation centers and other facilities at nearby charter, middle, and high school gymnasiums.”
Not only helping native players enjoy the sport of basketball, NABI organizers also note how the influx of people visiting the area makes a significant economic impact.“Last year’s tournament activities brought in an estimated $1.4 million to the Phoenix area,” according to Johnson.
“We’ve watched NABI grow and its growth has been incredible. And from our perspective, it’s great to have the ability to be a part of somebody’s dreams because in the bigger picture, it always comes back to you,” says AK-Chin tribal council member Louis Manuel.
“This year’s tournament is really something for our community and we’ve brought others into the equation, working with neighbor cities and the Gila River Indian Community on lodging and playing facilities,” Manuel said. “Anything beyond cost recovery will be reinvested for the future in the form of community health and awareness programs and revamping up our parks and gymnasium basketball courts. I’ll be a good cheerleader from the sidelines.”
Since 2003, NABI basketball has served over 15,000 Native youth, created numerous scholarships, and sent a number of participants in the direction of both college and pro careers.
According to NABI officials, a lot of male players go directly to playing at the collegiate level. Some female athletes, like Angel Goodrich, have gone on to play collegiately where she was recruited by the WNBA.
In conjunction with the tournament itself, the NABI Foundation hosts one of the largest college and career fairs to provide young players with many possibilities for their future. This year, the fair was held during team registration and a Meet and Greet Party.
NABI co-founders GinaMarie Scarpa and Mark West (Phoenix Suns) got invited to a Navajo team basketball game years ago and were impressed with the level of available talent. They asked themselves, ‘Why aren’t these kids being recruited by Division One?’ They realized that remoteness and distance precluded college scouts seeing and recruiting that raw talent. “We expect this year that there will be between 20 and 30 college recruiters on hand to scout out new Native talent,” says Johnson.
Showcasing Native talent is only part of why we do this,” says Scarpa, “ Our mission is to create, encourage, and support our youth as they discover who they are and what they want to be.”
The event Meet & Greet took place on June 26 with basketball games from June 27 through the championship on July 2. The Gold Division Championship Games will be played at Talking Stick Resort Arena, home of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury.