I’m not a sports writer. Heck, I’m barely a journalist. So I’m not gonna pretend to be a sports journalist writing about a Native basketball team that takes on the very best and continues to win. I’m just gonna be a fanboy; I love watching these guys.
See, there’s this team called “Desert Horse” that’s been playing within the Native circuit of independent basketball for years. They’re no joke. They’ve beaten my teams a few times. My teams have beaten them a few times. Either way, they’re really, really good and always come with it. Disciplined, smart, ruthless…I think it’s safe to say that anybody who plays them respects them.
There’s a catch though; Desert Horse excels against both Native teams on the independent circuit and non-Native teams elsewhere.
Take, for example, their most recent win in the Hoopfest 3-on-3 Tournament in Spokane, Washington. Hoopfest is a tournament that features almost 30,000 players who play on over 7,000 teams. The teams literally come from all over the United States and consist of everyone from casual players to current college and pro players. “Elite” is the highest division and is really quite cutthroat—the games are refereed on the hot concrete and they are brutal.
And Desert Horse consistently wins. In fact, they’ve won 3 straight years in the “Elite, 6-Foot and under” division and have gone to the finals 4 straight years. The team (at least the Hoopfest incarnation—there’s also the full roster that travels the independent circuit during the winter and spring) consists of JR Camel, Confederate Salish and Kootenai Tribes, OG and former University of Montana Grizzly; Zachary Camel, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, current University of Montana Grizzly; Michael Jackson (no, not that Michael Jackson), from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and Preston Wynne, a member of the Spokane Tribe of Indians, and a former player at Spokane Community College and Vanguard University. He also played overseas in Germany for some time.
They’ve got some credentials.
But so did everyone else. And on Sunday, Desert Horse found themselves in the loser out bracket, having to beat a team that had already beaten them twice in order to get into the championship game after they beat another tough team of shooters. They did that. The team was incredibly good—explosive scorers and tough ball-on defense. But in this “6 Foot and under” format, Desert Horse had a size advantage and continuously pounded the ball into Jackson and Camel in the post. Over and over and over again until, somehow, they did the very unlikely and beat a great team twice in a row.
Photo Credit: Wesley Roach, Skan Photography
Desert Horse: 3-Time Winner of World’s Largest 3-On-3 Hoops Tourney.
The finals found Desert Horse playing against a team of former college players that was shooting the lights out. They quickly took a 14-5 lead on Desert Horse (every bucket is worth one point; shots past the three-point line are worth 2) and it, honestly, looked like it was over. But then Desert Horse simply out-toughed them, fighting for loose balls, making the game ugly and getting into the other team’s head until the frustration became evident and Desert Horse clawed their way back to a tie.
There were some strange foul calls, and the opposing team lost its cool. Before Desert Horse got the opportunity to shoot a free throw on game point, one of the opposing players threw the ball at the referee’s foot and the ref called a technical. An automatic point, game…Champion Desert Horse. Again. There were many, many Natives in the house (as there always is when Desert Horse plays at Hoopfest) and all cheered, war whooped and screamed when Desert Horse was named champion.
Zach Conko-Camel (Sr.), coach of Desert Horse as well as the Salish-Kootenai College Bison, summed it up best. "This team is made up of four individuals but they work at one common goal, which is to win. Even when they were nine down in championship the attitude was still were gonna win this as long as we do what we do. Everybody has a role, as long as each one does there job everything works out good.
Preston's one of the best clutch shooters in the country, Michael’s physical defensive presence has always imprinted on the game, Zachary's the young one of the group so his job is to defend their best player and making timely three pointers, and Jr. is just Jr. He's the leader and the closer. We have a lot of tribal history in the Spokane area, and our job is to continue a great family history."
Wesley Roach, Skan Photography
Gyasi Ross, Editor at Large
Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Territories