Native American basketball is on an up-tempo kick – in more ways than one.
In the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, the state’s high school governing body, Lummi Nation has reached the state Class 1B boys championship game in two of the last three seasons and won the state title in 2015.
Last year, half of the 1B schools earning the state’s six boys trophies were tribal schools: Lummi, Yakima National Tribal and Muckleshoot Tribal.
In Idaho, the Nez Perce girls from Lapwai have won multiple state championships at the Class 1D level.
Up-tempo basketball, a style of play that features aggressive, trapping defenses and quick, aggressive scoring, is popular all over, but on the reservation it goes by the nickname “Rezball.”
And it’s gaining plenty of attention.
There was Larry Colton’s 2000 best-seller, “Counting Coup: A True Story of Basketball,” about girls basketball on the Crow Reservation in southeastern Montana.
The Schimmel sisters, Shoni and Jude from the Umatilla Tribe in Oregon, led Louisville to the NCAA women’s national championship game. In her first year in the WNBA, Showtime Shoni earned the MVP award in the league’s All-Star game.
“I was born on the rez and come from the rez,” Shoni Schimmel has been quoted saying. “That’s all I do is play rezball.”
Now the HUB Sports Center is bringing the game to Spokane Valley in the first of what will be an annual Native American event: Gathering of the Hoops Native Basketball Tournament on Aug. 18-20.
“This is the first time we’ve ever done one,” HUB program director Ryan Barbieri said. “We’ve gotten a lot of support from the tribes and tribal organizations, and they’ve helped us get teams interested.”
The tournament has sought boys and girls teams as young as 10 all the way through adult.
But HUB is looking for something bigger than just a basketball tournament and intends to grow it over the coming years.
“The tagline we’re using for this tournament is ‘Hopes, Dreams and Healing,’” Barbieri said. “We have an upstairs room that will be dedicated to each of those aspects and we’re actively working to bring in some cultural activities so that there will be something there for the whole family. We’re working with a couple of local artists to come in and teach some classes and we’re hoping to bring in a guest speaker from one of the area tribes.
“We really want to make this into an event, not just a basketball tournament.”
First-year tournaments face the challenge of getting the word out, and judging by the initial response it’s making the rounds.
“We’ve been working those tribal affiliations to find teams, and we’ve gotten a lot of response from AAU teams,” Barbieri said. “One of them is from Lapwai, where they’ve got a big basketball following. And we got a call the other day from Oregon, and we’ve gotten some good responses from teams on the West Side.”
One of the hallmarks throughout Spokane’s history with the State B basketball tournaments has been the way small communities follow their high school teams to the state tournament.
The old joke of the tournament always was that communities like Reardan and Ritzville, St. John and Tekoa shut down during tournament week so that everyone, literally everyone, can pack up and head to the Spokane Arena.
What has always been true among those traditional Class B powers is also true with both communities dominated by Native American students as well as with tribal schools.
“That’s what we’re hoping this will become,” Barbieri said. “Something for everyone in the family.”
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