Tribal college basketball takes center stage
With the development of the Montana Tribal College Basketball League, local basketball enthusiasts now have three more teams to cheer for this winter.
Both Stone Child College and Fort Belknap College now have basketball programs. Stone Child has a men's and women's team, while Fort Belknap has just a men's team at this point.
The Stone Child men are primed for a very good season.
The roster is packed with outstanding local talent, and though the season is just getting underway, there is already a lot of positive hype after winning the league's kickoff tournament that took place on Oct. 29-31 at Stone Child College.
"Our team looks really good," Stone Child head coach Jeffrey Henry said. "We are really young with most of our team coming straight out of high school, but I feel really good about how our team is playing basketball right now."
The roster is made up of 11 freshmen and just one sophomore, but the talent to be successful is there.
Freshman Eric Schildt (6-6) had a standout career with Rocky Boy High School, and now headlines his college roster as an anchor on both offense and defense. He is Stone Child's big man, but also has the skills and athleticism to play as a guard.
"Eric (Schildt) was a big time player in high school and he is getting an opportunity to show his talents even more," Henry said. "He is talented enough to try and move on."
But with Schildt most likely holding down the post position, Stone Child can throw several other talented guards in to the game. Freshmen Mike Sangrey Jr., JC Hawk, Rodney Turn Toes and Jarod Parker will play key roles this season. They are talented players and were also high school standouts.
Also making up the roster is Allen Parisian Jr., Mark Collins Jr., Jerason Oats, Colton Koop, Glen Doney, Kyle Macdonald and sophomore Nathaniel Windy Boy.
"We have a plethora of guards that are just unbelievably fast," Henry said. "All of them can score, they can do it all on the basketball court. They just get out and run with the basketball."
And that speed is going to be key for the success, as their quickness is one of the team's biggest strengths. They don't have a lot of size outside of Schilt and Collins Jr. (6-5), so Stone Child will look to set the pace with a running offense and pressure defense.
With the talent Stone Child has, their goals are fitting.
At the end of the season there is league tournament to crown the leage champions, and Stone Child expects to be there. There is also a national tournament where tribal schools from all over the country compete and Stone Child would love to make an appearance at in their first year of basketball.
"We would really like to win our tribal league tournament," Henry said. "But also compete at a higher level with other colleges from around the country."
Stone Child also has a women's team that should find success in their first year under the guidance of head coach Frank Henry. The ladies from Stone Child also have a talented roster, but they also find themselves with more sophomore experience.
Stone Child's women's' team is made up of eight sophomores and only three freshmen. The sophomores include Leiloni Belcourt, Sekoya Big Horn, Tori Belcourt, Marty Rae, Ashley Parisian, Loni LaMere, Erin Broncho and Ronnie Sue Acra. And the freshman include Shawna Small, Kaycee Henry and Jasmine Dumas.
Fort Belknap has joined the league, but does so with just a men's team. But being led by head coach Willie Rhines, a successful year also looks to be in the near future.
"We are right at the top of the conference," Rhines said. "We are real excited and the team is coming along, but they are still making the adjustments from rec. and from high school basketball into a college atmosphere. It's a little period of adjustment."
But so far, the players are adjusting just fine.
And as far as first-year goals go, Fort Belknap is looking to just keep focused and make it through the season. Winning is obviously amongst the teams goals, but so is just gaining some recognition in the league as well as the state and even nation.
Rhines has played or coached basketball at every level. He knows talent and he sees quite a bit of it on his squad.
"In a young program you want your kids to feel like they are part of a well oiled system." Rhines said. "And that's what the school is trying to do.
"And I know Division 1 talent and I have some guys on this team that would do well at the next level," Rhines added. "They are just looking to get noticed, and they needed a league like this one to just get their feet wet. I have at least four or five guys that could help a team out at the next level"
Pat Cole, Isaiah Martin, Cole McCabe and Thomas Rutherford are extremely talented basketball players, all of which Rhines could see playing at a higher level. But Fort Belknap is also made up of John First Raised, Elias Goes Ahead, Jo-Jo Black Elk, Jermayne Birdtail, Vince Gone, Roderick Scheaffer, William DeCelles and Jacob Rider, all very talented players themselves.
For Fort Belknap to find success this season, they just have to play. The team is packed with natural talent and Rhines is just looking to fine tune and mold that talent to what it will take to compete at the college level. They need to pick up and maintain basketball smarts.
"I am kind of strict with them," Rhines said. "Like my coach was on me at that level. You have to change our mentality and change your motivation to make it to that next level, it's not a walk in the park for these players. They were all high school stars, and now they have to come out and prove themselves all over again."