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
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
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
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
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.