Courtesy Salish Kootenai College
men’s and women’s teams from SKC pose together as National Champions.

Montana’s SKC Wins Both Tribal College National Basketball Championships

Jack McNeel

Twenty-five teams from throughout Indian country gathered at Salish Kootenai College (SKC) on the Flathead Reservation, in Pablo, Montana, in early March to decide the basketball champions for schools in the AIHEC Tribal College National Basketball Championship.

The host, SKC, came up winners in both the men’s and women’s divisions. Second place in each division went to NWIC from Bellingham, Washington.

“It’s been around since the ‘80s,” said Coach Juan Perez, about the tournament. “It’s held in a different location each year and this was our fourth time to host it. Thirty-seven schools are involved either as a member or an associate. This year, we had 12 men’s and 10 women’s teams.”

The men’s championship game came down to the final seconds. D.J. Fish, a Blackfeet member and tournament MVP, talked of those final seconds. “Northwest Indian College made a comeback. In my mind, I knew I was going to get the ball and it was just a matter of me getting to the bucket.”

That score put SKC back in the lead and with just 3.4 seconds left, D.J. was fouled. “I put the first [free throw] up. It felt good and looked good, and I was thinking ‘That’s good.’ But it hit the back of the rim and bounced out.”

He missed the second free throw as well, but fortunately for D.J. and the SKC team, the clock ran out before NWIC could score. SKC took the title and NWIC finished second after winning the tournament the previous two years.

Zack Camel coaches the men’s team at SKC and it was his 8th national title in 15 years. “It’s been really exciting and really important to give these tribal kids the opportunity to play organized college basketball,” he said. “Win or lose I’m always excited for them. They had a lot of fun together and we’re there for each other. It makes it easy to coach, and in the end, it was a success.”

“It was a really great tournament,” said Adam Lane, who coaches the women’s team at Northwest Indian College. “There was a lot of good competition. We had a really good season, and I’m proud of where we are, finishing second.”


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