The excitement for tribal college basketball has been building across Montana for some time. And now, it's finally here.
With the introduction of the Montana Tribal College Basketball League (MTCBL), there is now opportunity out there that a lot of graduating native american students didn’t have before, and that's to play college basketball for their home and for their communites.
The league's mission is to become the next step for young student-athletes, introducing them to a college atmosphere in the meantime. A lot of local athletes are very skilled basketball players, but the majority of them would never have the opportunity to play at the next level if it wasn’t for the MTCBL.
“It’s not only about basketball,” Stone Child College men's head coach Jeffrey Henry said. “But to also educate our young people. It’s a means of retention, we are trying to keep kids with basketball talent in school and that’s the No. 1 priority of the league. We want to get them through school, but also give them a chance to showcase their talents outside of high school and the reservation.”
Six of the seven tribal schools in the state are taking part in the MTCBL, including Stone Child College, Salish Kootenai College, Fort Belknap College, Little Big Horn College, Blackfeet Community College and Fort Peck Community College.
Having the kids continue in their education is a very important part of the league’s goals, but basketball is still a factor.
There is no doubt about it, these teams have some of the best boys and girls basketball talent in the state. Many of them were high school standouts, and they are looking make it at the next level while earning a degree in the process.
And aiding the students in the process of becoming more well known on the courts, the league sent out a mass email to colleges across the entire state before the season ever began. The MTCBL wanted to give other colleges a heads up to what was going on and to what kind of talent some of these jr. colleges truly have.
It’s not only about keeping student athletes in school locally, it’s about sending them off to bigger schools to continue their education as well.
“We are trying to provide opportunities for them to continue their educations as well as play basketball,” Henry said. “We want the two to go hand in hand. The students come first and we want them to all graduate.”
The MTCBL resumes its season this weekend with a tournament hosted by Fort Belknap. The tournament runs Saturday and Sunday all day at Harlem High School.