Midway through the college basketball season, a host of Native America ballers are off to great starts on some of the nation’s top teams. Considering the amount of success last year -- where five Native women made the NCAA Tournament and three men made it to the Final Four -- one could argue we are in the golden age of American Indian hoops.
Here are eight ballers continuing that trend in 2016.
Caitlyn Ramirez - Courtesy Troy Trojans
Even a team ranked No. 6 in the country in points per game at 85.2, Troy’s Caitlyn Ramirez stands out. The 6-foot, 2-inch Seminole is one of the best in the country this season in field goal percentage (58.8), while placing second on the Trojans (9-5 overall) in scoring at 12.2 points per game.
Sandy Cohen III
Sandy Cohen - Courtesy of Marquette Athletics
Starting as a freshman in the Big East is an impressive feat. Sandy Cohen III (Oneida) achieved that in his first collegiate game at Marquette last year. The 6-6 sophomore averages 8.8 points and 3.4 rebounds in 28 minutes for the 12-5 Golden Eagles.
Bronson Koenig - Courtesy of UW Badgers
It hasn’t been the best season for Wisconsin, but Bronson Koenig is doing his best to direct a 9-9 team that lost its iconic head coach early in the season to retirement -- this coming after a national championship game last year. The 6-4 point guard is logging 36 minutes per contest, averaging 13.6 points and 2.4 assists for the Badgers. Koenig is seeking a degree in community and nonprofit leadership and hopes to make an impact on Native American communities, as he shared with ICTMN in early December.
“After basketball, I really want to make an impact on Native American communities, speak to Native American youth about what they can do to better their lives.”
SEE RELATED: “A Hoops Q&A with Badgers Point Guard Bronson Koenig”
Tisha Phillips Courtesy of GoEags
After playing sparingly last season, junior Tisha Phillips has become Eastern Washington’s most reliable floor general. The 5-9 junior, who hails from the Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho, has started every game for the 9-6 Eagles, averaging 9.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists.
Abby Scott - Courtesy of Greg Owens
One of the most dynamic Native American three-point shooters in college, New Mexico State’s Abby Scott (Warm Springs/Yakama) has found a new role this season. After starting 28 games last year – and setting a school record with 11 treys in one contest – Scott has been utilized as a spark off the bench for the 13-3 Aggies. The 6-1 guard averages 6.3 points in her nearly 15 minutes per game.
Ron Baker - Courtesy of Jeff Tuttle
Ron Baker, Potawatomi, went from walk-on three seasons ago to a finalist for college basketball’s top individual award at Wichita State. The Wooden Award finalist also represented Team USA at the Pan-American games last August. He averages 14.8 points and 4 rebounds per game for the Shockers, who are just outside of the AP Top 25.
Tesha Buck - Courtesy University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
Bronson Koenig isn’t the only Native American guard making a splash in America’s Dairyland. Wisconsin-Green Bay guard Tesha Buck (Mdewakanton Sioux) is a key player on the 14-2 Phoenix. The 5-11 junior averages 8.8 points. She shared her aspirations in basketball and as a role model with ICTMN season.
“Native people can get to the next level, to the WNBA or overseas. You can do it.
“I think it’s an honor to have people come up after the games and say thank you for being a role model for our kids.
“It’s breathtaking, and an honor to have people look up to me, and I’ll do everything I can to help that moving forward.”
SEE RELATED: “March Madness For Green Bay Sophomore: ‘ Play With no Fear’”
Derek Willis - Courtesy of UK Athletics
Derek Willis appeared in 19 games last year for Kentucky, which earned the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament after going undefeated in the regular season. The 6-9, 220-pound Northern Arapaho averages 5.4 points per game for the 12-3 Wildcats, ranked No. 14 in the country.
Follow ICTMN’s Cary Rosenbaum on Twitter: @CaryRosenbaum