Navajo, Apache girls play hoops in northern Idaho

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho -- North Idaho College women's basketball is sporting
an American Indian look this season, with the arrival of four players from
the Southwest.

Lindsey Begai, of Winslow, Ariz.; Carmelita Begay, of Shiprock, N.M.; and
Stephanie Jones, of Gallup, N.M. -- all Navajo -- are joined by Dominique
Pusher, a White Mountain Apache from White River, Ariz. To that combo add
three Australians, one Canadian, and several girls from the Northwest, and
it promises to be a unique team.

Playing in the Scenic West Athletic Conference, one of the country's
premier junior college conferences, NIC is a major step upward from high
school ball and offers student athletes an opportunity to excel at this
level and later transfer to a four-year school. NIC is located on the
ancestral grounds of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe and upwards of 100 American
Indian students are enrolled.

Jones is a returning player as a starter at point guard last year. Coach
Chris Carlson commented, "She was a really pleasant surprise last year.
She's just a tenacious defender. I think she has more heart than anybody
I've ever coached. She's a great kid, a good student, and just loves
basketball. She's here in the gym every day studying. When Steph gets tired
of studying, she goes and shoots for a while. She's a coach's dream."
That's high praise, coming from a coach who's seen many players in his 17
years as a coach.

"When you look at a point guard, you want to see them have a feel for the
tempo of the game. She dictates a lot of tempo with her defense.
Offensively, she takes care of the ball so well and doesn't have a lot of
turnovers," Carlson said.

Jones spent a lot of time over the summer working on her 3-point shots;
she's expected to shoot better than before and become an even
better-rounded point guard. Jones commented, "My game is basically defense.
I pick up a lot of points from steals. I'm playing point guard and love
being in control."

Lindsey Begai primarily played the post in high school but will likely play
the wing in college, which will take some time to learn. Begai commented
that college "is a lot different. There's a lot more speed. Everybody's
good and was a star in high school so you have to really step up and show
what you can do."

Carlson commented, "Lindsey is one of the nicest kids with just a great
smile. She's a real crafty player, very deceptive, and does so many things
well. She's a good passer, good scorer and has a lot of moves.

"The one thing that might hold her back is explosiveness and proper running
technique, but we're doing a very high-end form of conditioning right now
that I think will help her more than anybody on the team. She's just so
smart around the basket and knows how to score real quickly and if anybody
doubles on her she's a great passer."

Begay and Pusher will both red-shirt (practice with the team but not
compete during the freshman year) this year in order to be eligible to play
the next two years. Carlson spoke highly of them both and felt that playing
against very good players every day in practice is going to put them in
good position to challenge for starting positions next year. "I just like
everything about [Begay]," he said. "She's got [a] nice size for a guard.
She's strong and quick, plays good defense and shoots the three. Looking
ahead to next year, I think she's going to be able to fill one of our guard
spots for us.

"Dominique is an interesting player. She has a real nice shot from the
outside," Carlson said. "She tells me she played point guard all through
high school. We have her pegged in at the three spot, but it's always nice
to have a three that can handle the basketball."

Carlson said he expects this team as a whole to be better in most areas
than last year's 22 -- 10 team. "Overall, the speed, depth, size and talent
-- I just think we have more to offer this year so I'm looking for another
great year."

What do the young ladies say about their move to Idaho? All four voiced how
they like Coeur d'Alene and NIC, the lake, the trees and greenness, and how
pretty it is.