LAKEWOOD, Colo. — For nearly 40 years, the All West Native American Basketball classic has brought hoops and culture to Colorado.
At the Gold Crown fieldhouse in Lakewood, 111 teams, from different states and tribes, came together for a three-day basketball tournament.
Seeing the stands full, you learn that basketball is king in Indian Country.
“When you see a native team off the reservation, that gym is packed,” said Head Coach Merle Anderson Jr. of the Navajo Tribe. “I think just the morale of the kids, meeting coaches from different reservations, sharing a little of where you come from, and letting them know that we’re all here to support one another.”
After six years of playing in this tournament, Juwon Garnier of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota returned to watch the event he once played in, “Coming here to this tournament means a lot. To be able to play, to be able to show out and just showcase your skills. It’s a lot of fun. It’s great for the culture.”
A culture that loves the game. Just ask board member Felix McGowan, who played in this tournament in the late 80’s. He went on to play at Gonzaga. He represents the Fort Peck Indian Reservation of Montana.
“It was awesome to come play against guys that you didn’t see and you heard about. You heard about guys from South Dakota that were playing and it was fun to come to one place and have a chance to square off against them and see who’s better.”
It’s an opportunity to also gain exposure and new life experiences. Some of these athletes have never even left their respective reservations.
“I feel like it’s so important because it unites a lot of the native people together, and just get to come here and do something we love and play basketball,” said Riley Casey, who is a player for the team “He Sapa.” “I’d like to play Division I for sure but just trying to make it to the next level.”
Layla C’Bearing of the ‘Lady Chiefs’ team from Wyoming also agreed that it was a uniting event, “I think this is a really cool event to showcase that Natives do have that capability of being great. So there’s a lot of great talent here and just walking around and looking at a game, you can tell we’re right up there with everyone else in basketball.”