July 14, 2007

Basketball players aim for Division I

Native Americans get lookLike many high school basketball players, Clint Not Afraid dreams of playing in Division I.

The question is whether he'll get a fair shot.

As a member of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana, Not Afraid plays most of his games far from the recruiting path. This week, though, Not Afraid and the Blackfeet Playerz are among the 80 boys and girls teams competing in the fifth annual Native American Basketball Invitational (NABI).

For the first time the tournament has been accredited by the NCAA, which means college coaches are allowed to attend and scout prospects.
Why it matters:Increased exposure to recruiters is critical. The sport's popularity on the reservations has not translated into more basketball scholarships for Native Americans, although there has been incremental growth.

Only 28 Native American men and 23 women played Division I basketball in 2004-05, according to the most recent NCAA race and ethnicity report. In 1999-2000, 10 Native American men and 20 women played at the highest level, according to the report.

Part of the problem is that many play on remote reservations. But tourney director GinaMarie Mabry said Native Americans also fight stereotypes.

"We get e-mails saying, 'Native Americans should stay on the reservation,'" Mabry said. "These kids face some of the same barriers that African-American athletes faced 40 and 50 years ago."

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