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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 4 , 2002 - Issue 60


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Tournament draws top tribal players

SPOKANE, WA - Some of the biggest names in the circuit showed up in the Spokane area this weekend -- including Wambli Ledesma and Russell Archambault.

The names may sound foreign unless you follow the national circuit of American Indian basketball tournaments around the United States and Canada.

One of North American's largest Indian basketball tournaments takes place near Seattle on Tulalip land next weekend. This week, some teams stopped in Spokane to compete for championship leather jackets at the 10th Annual Spring Fever Basketball Tournament.

The event is hosted by Jerry Ford, a Spokane Indian who put up $4,000 first place prize money.

Mead Junior High School hosted 16 all-Indian men's teams and 12 women's teams. The championship game is planned for today.

Regional teams from the Nez Perce, Coeur d'Alene and Kalispel from Lapwai, Plummer and Usk took on nationally known teams like Kalifornia Skins and Iron 5 from North Dakota.

Archambault, 25, warmed up Saturday on the sidelines with his 3-year-old son. Archambault has played for Iron 5 for several years.

"It's fun for me," Archambault said.

The trip gave him a chance to catch up with relatives in the area, he said.

He spent the last basketball season playing for the CBA's Saskatchewan Hawks. He tried out with the Milwaukee Bucks NBA team and made it down to the last cut before he was released, said Randy Gilette, 29, captain of Archambault's Indian team, Iron 5.

Some sports fans may recognize Archambault's name as a controversial figure in the University of Minnesota basketball program scandal. He was a freshman on the University of Minnesota Golden Gopher team that made it to the NCAA final four in 1997.

Later he was embroiled in a scandal when several people accused the team's coach of paying cash to players. A tutor also came forward to say she did papers for students.

Archambault, whose thick arms sport rows of tattoos, doesn't like to talk about those bygone events.

When he played the rest of his college career at Huron University in South Dakota, opposing teams would bring signs to harass him about the scandal.

No one needled Archambault in Spokane.

"We're all on the same side in this tournament," said Gilette, an Arikara and Hidatsa Indian, who is also coach of the Bismarck United Tribes Technical College. "The Indian basketball community is pretty close knit. There's no bickering. There's a lot of respect.

Archambault began getting more respect as he rained in three-pointer after three-pointer. After each successful shot, the crowd's appreciative "Oohs" would get louder. During a fast break he faked out an opponent by dribbling behind his back, first one way, then the other.

Students from the Healing Lodge of the Seven Nations, a youth chemical dependency treatment program, would clap after a successful 25-footer.

They also cheered on Wambli Ledesma, a Lakota Indian who grew up in San Jose. When he was 17, Ledesma discovered the Indian tournaments.

Now he plays 15 to 20 a year. Most times his team, Kalifornia Skins, get matched up against Iron 5.

"We have our rivalries," Ledesma said after losing Saturday 82-93 to Iron 5.

Odds are that they'll play again.

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