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NBA: A dream within reach

FORT DEFIANCE, Ariz. - It may take hard work for an American Indian to play basketball in college and it certainly takes drive to make it to the NBA, but it's not out of reach for Warlance Foster.

Foster plays point or shooting guard and has proven himself, all by himself, without drafts, scholarships or any of the common ways that most athletes utilize in college and beyond. He is Navajo and Lakota, and has to overcome the stereotype that befalls all American Indian athletes when it comes to being discovered.

"It takes one player to show he can do it and then the floodgates will open to places like Pine Ridge and Kyle. Coaches will see the good talent. So many players have failed, coaches no longer look to the reservations for talent," Foster said.

Foster is headed for Europe to play professional basketball. He said he will try out for multiple teams and has no preference as to which country he plays for.

How does he feel about Europe? "I'm all for it. It's an excellent opportunity to see the world and an opportunity to show what Indian basketball players can do."

Even though European teams pay pretty well, enough "to earn a successful living," he is more interested in just playing the game and showing his talent, he said.

The NBA scouts European players and the possibility of Foster being seen by an NBA representative is very good and the chance of returning to his homeland is also very good, he said.

What is most discouraging for college and pro teams is the stereotype of the American Indian that gets in the way. "Many people get homesick," Foster added. That stops coaches from recruiting American Indian students, he said. Foster has attended a lot of tournaments and games and has seen great talent among American Indian players.

Foster has overcome adversity his entire career. He said he was told by friends and others that he couldn't make it.

His family has urged him to pursue the European leagues and "they are 110 percent behind me," Foster said.

What it takes to make it to the pros is heart, determination and a hunger deep down inside, he said.

As a walk-on at Arizona Junior College, one of the top junior college teams in the country, he played in two national championships.

At Western State College, a Division II school, he was ranked in the top 10 in assists, steals and three-point shooting percentage in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference in 2000.

As a walk-on he went on to become captain of Western State College basketball team. He averaged seven points per game, four steals, six assists and shot 45 percent from three-point range.

His coach Bob Hoffman said Foster was a quick and aggressive top defensive player and is said to have the quickest hands in the conference. He is also a smart, motivated and hard working player, other coaches added.

In 1992, the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, stated that Foster was one of the top 10 players in Colorado to watch while he attended Centauras High School.

As a member of the 1993 Navajo Nation All Star Team at the National Junior AAU Championship in Jacksonville, Fla., he scored 40 points in one game and was named a High School All-American and a recipient of the Sportsmanship Award for the tournament.

This past October, Foster tried out for the Denver Nuggets and was told he may have a position in the future. He was invited to attend the summer development league in 2004 by Nuggets' General Manager Kiki Vandeweghe. The Nuggets are the only pro team Foster contacted so far.

But time may be running out for Foster. He is 28-years-old and professional players playing lives end at an early age. "I have to do something pretty quick. I have to get on a team as soon as possible. I have only a few years left to play."

Although the European agent Maurizio Balduccio, Protalent Sports Management, who represents five countries, has made contact with him, Foster does not currently have an agent in Europe.

Foster does not forget where he came from. He is a Sun Dancer and participates in pow wows as a Northern Traditional Dancer. He also attends the traditional ceremonies of his Din? and Lakota heritage.

His parents, Lenny Foster of Window Rock and Theresa Gutierrez of Denver, were members of the American Indian Movement and were at the siege of Wounded Knee in 1973.

Foster has a degree in Sociology and after his professional basketball tour he plans to return to the Navajo Reservation to teach and coach.