Indian Country, Home of Champions: Navajo Tech Wins AIHEC Divison II Title
Navajo Technical College (NTC) power forward Bryan Sherman of Kayenta, Arizona, came up big at the 32nd annual American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) Division II basketball tournament in leading the Skyhawks to a first place finish while also earning being named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award.
The AIHEC championships took place March 13 – 17 at Fond du Lac Tribal & Community College in Cloquet, Minnesota, and had 19 teams competing across two divisions. The first division consisted of teams with fifteen or more games played during the regular season while Division II consisted of colleges with more compressed schedules. (Related story: Back to Back! Northwest Indian College Wins National Basketball Title for Second Year in a Row)
On his way to being named the tournament’s MVP, Sherman averaged a double-double with 29 points and 11 rebounds a game, and was also named to the All-Tournament team, along with teammates Thurman Thomas and Michael McMillan.
“We didn’t think we were going to go that far, but I’m really proud with the way the team performed and how they rose to the occasion,” said first-year coach, Ulrich Morgan. “Bryan and Mike are our team captains, and Thurman really surprised us. He stepped it up and played hard and deserved making the All-Tourney team. All three of them did.”
The trio was instrumental to NTC’s first AIHEC men’s championship run, which ended with a thrilling 101 – 98 overtime victory against Conkdeska Cikana Community College (CCCC) of Fort Totten, North Dakota. In the championship game, Sherman tallied 29 points and ten rebounds while playing just over 40 minutes.
To get to the finals match, NTC captured their first overtime victory of the tournament by beating Leech Lake Community College of Cass Lake, Minnesota, 92 – 82. NTC started off the semifinal match sluggish by shooting only 29 percent from the field, but rolled in the second half by shooting 44 percent and 75 percent in overtime. Sherman tallied 30 points in the game and Thomas chipped in 25.
“When we started the season we were a little out of shape so we ran two miles a day in the afternoons, and in the evenings we would run sprints on the court,” explained Sherman, who is in his final semester of NTC’s Automotive Technology program. “By the time the tournament came around we were set to run the ball. We ended up outrunning the other teams.”
Conditioning once again played a key role in NTC’s championship game against CCCC when they overcame a four-point deficit in the second half. The Skyhawks even climbed their way to a three-point lead with seconds remaining before CCCC hit a buzzer beater to send the game into overtime.
In the overtime period NTC was without three players who fouled out, including McMillan, but so was CCCC when they lost their star player, Kyle Langstaff, to fouls. With Langstaff on the bench, Sherman dominated in the paint and powered the Skyhawks to their first AIHEC men’s championship.
“We just played our game and had fun. We even put a little Rez ball in our game with the run and gun,” Sherman proudly stated. “In the tournaments we played around (Crownpoint) we had ups and downs, but we pushed our guys harder and we came up with a championship. We’re the first team to bring home a men’s championship for NTC so it was a good experience.”
With their magical run in Cloquet, NTC returned to Crownpoint as Division II champions, but they’ll soon seek to compete in Division I. To prepare for the jump in divisions, NTC is erecting a new gymnasium as part of a new comprehensive wellness center that begins construction in June.
On the women’s side of the AIHEC tournament, the Lady Skyhawks also placed first in Division II with a forfeit by Fond du Lac Tribal & Community College. Guards Ramona Ramone and JoVonna Thomas and power forward Tamara Hopkins were named to the All-Tournament women’s team.