TEMPE — Wells Fargo Arena, the usual home for the Arizona State Sun Devils, played host to something new Saturday afternoon. For nearly eight hours, rezball took center stage.
Passion, excitement and run-and-gun basketball made the price of admission worthwhile to see all five games held at ASU.
Nearly three years in the making, the Native American Basketball Classic hosted by the Arizona Interscholastic Association aimed to showcase predominantly Native American schools from northern and southern Arizona. AIA Executive Director David Hines said the event is the first of what he hopes will be a continued tradition.
“We would like to be able to, in the future, not only continue this and build this but to potentially go up into northern Arizona closer to the reservations up north, and work with them to potentially bring it a little closer to their home and create a bigger opportunity,” Hines said. “The teams have come with great enthusiasm and we would like to build from there.”
As the event evolves, location will be become more and more prevalent. The closer to the schools, the better the chance to showcase the crowds that the schools are known to bring in. The main thought when creating the event, Hines said, was how can they properly recognize and celebrate Native American basketball. Hines, in his 10th year with the AIA, said the 26 schools housed on reservation land playing in the AIA need to be recognized for what they bring to Arizona high school athletics.
“We want to celebrate Native American basketball,” Hines said. “They play with passion, they play with enthusiasm, with their skill and their fans. So, we wanted an opportunity to celebrate and recognize what they do.”
Hines said the reason to come and take in the event is to take in a brand of basketball that everyone enjoys.
“If you really like to watch good basketball in its purest form, this is group to do it with. They just enjoy playing,” Hines said. “They don’t make it about themselves, they just love to play the game. What they do is they play hard and they enjoy it while there are playing. “
Monument Valley, Page, Valley Sanders, Alchesay, Hopi, San Carlos, Ganado and Chinle were all represented at the event as two boys games were played, along with two girls and one unified in which students from Hopi and Page with disabilities competed in a hour long game.
For Page High School, whose boys team fell in the second round of the 3A playoffs and whose girls team won the 3A state title for the third time in six years, the event gave the team a chance to get a different kind of exposure while playing a different kind of basketball, Page boys head coach Russ Skubal said.
“I think it’s outstanding. I think it’s a great event that allows our kids to play in a great arena, have a great time and play some great basketball,” Skubal said.
Despite not being located on the reservation, Page High School still has a predominately Native American enrollment, and the basketball team is no different. During Skubal’s time at Page, he said the Native American players he has had are some of the best he has ever coached, on and off the court.
For Skubal, it is more than just rezball that some of the athletes hold on to.
“I feel like to them, running is spiritual. Basketball is spiritual,” Skubal said. “Sport is spiritual and it is part of who they are.”
When it comes to what Skubal believes rezball is, he kept it simple.
“It’s kids that love to run and play, and love to play hard,” Skubal said.