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Boys basketball teams to showcase talent at NABI

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PHOENIX. - Throughout the decades that Quinton Roman Nose has coached and worked with American Indian high school sports in Oklahoma, he's been curious about one burning question.

What's it going to take to get major colleges interested in Native athletes?

That's one reason that Roman Nose is bringing his Concho, Okla., team of Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal members halfway across the country to participate in the Native American Basketball Invitational tournament in Phoenix. The Concho boys play Red Lake, Minn. on July 9 in a first-round game of the tournament at Phoenix North High School.

Even though the tournament isn't sanctioned by the NCAA, Roman Nose figures the exposure for players will be helpful in getting athletic scholarships at NAIA schools.

Roman Nose's impressionable years were during the late 1950s and 1960s when Oklahoma City University was a regional power at the NCAA level and the coach at the time, the late Abe Lemons, recruited American Indian players. One of them, Gary Gray, was an all-American in the mid-1960s.

Since then, it's been one frustration after another. Roman Nose has coached summer all-star teams of Cheyenne and Arapaho boys and girls for the past six years. The end result has been five players going on to play junior-college basketball in Oklahoma.

According to the most recent NCAA statistics, only four-tenths of a percent of total athletic scholarships were awarded to Native athletes. An investigation by the New York Times two years ago listed a host of reasons including prejudice by outside coaches, homesickness on the part of the athletes, alcoholism and Indian cultures that suppress individual achievement.

Roman Nose sees other factors in play, also.

"Native players play outstanding ball in their own surroundings, in the smaller communities where the talent pool is not so large," Roman Nose said. "But, let's face it. A 6-2 post player is too small for the next level. There's also a basic problem in that the academics in the high schools are just not good enough to prepare them for the university level."

Roman Nose also said that the style of play of "Indian ball" is different from off-reservation basketball.

"It's a hustle style geared toward teamwork. There's not so much ego involved in it and the goal for the individual player isn't to be the star but to blend with those around him," Roman Nose said.

Albert Jim of Tohatchi, N.M., a longtime coach on the Navajo Nation, said Native high school basketball has made large strides in quality of play in the Southwest during the past decade but that many of the old stereotypes remain in the eyes of college coaches.

"Many college coaches have (stereotypes) of 'they can't stay away from the res(ervation)' and all of the social problems," Jim said.

Jarvis Mullahon, a guard Jim coached in the mid-1990s, started for two seasons at the University of Texas-El Paso. Jim said that a number of major universities recruited Mullahon until they found out his racial background.

"The first question they asked was if he was Native American. Then, the second question they asked is if he was full-blooded Native American," Jim said. "Quite a few of them backed out after I told them yes to both questions."

Two of the better players in the Division 1-A Big Sky Conference last season were American Indians - guards Pete Conway of Montana State and Kodiak Yazzie of Northern Arizona.

Northern Arizona Coach Mike Adras said Yazzie is "one of the most cerebral players I have coached in analyzing defensive situations."

"There's such a passion for the game on the reservation. You see a lot of 4-year-olds already dribbling basketballs, and they grow up really knowing where that three-point line is," Adras said. "On top of that, they play year-round and have good backing of school administrators in going to team camps around the state. When you spend a lot of time on something, the skills will develop."