For the first time in at least two decades, teams travelling to Prince Rupert for the All Native Basketball Tournament (ANBT) will not be allowed to include a pick-up player on their roster. The ringer rule that once existed is now gone.
It’s just one change of many that the ANBT Committee decided to implement in time for the 52nd annual event. It all began with the decision to cancel the All-Native Qualifying Tournament back in November, deciding the way it used to be prior to the addition of the ANQT was the way to go. The top 11 would still automatically be back for the following year’s tournament, but the ANBT would go back to the invite system, where villages and teams that didn’t play in the previous year’s tournament would then be extended the invite to compete.
Then, the ANBT Committee got even bolder, and eliminated the pick-up player rule — where any team could add one player to their roster that was not from their home village, as long as the player was aboriginal, was not a professional basketball player, and lived in the same province (or in the case of Alaskan teams, the same state).
Perhaps surprisingly, the decision has been welcomed by the majority of teams, said ANBT President Peter Haugan.
“The villages, they like the no pick-up rule, because now their players have to play for them,” he said. “If you want to build your team up, now you don’t have to worry about players moving away.”
Haugan added that many of the successful teams over the years haven’t gone with a ringer anyway, and Hydaburg in the Senior Men’s division is probably a good example of a team that won without a ringer.
“Everybody was allowed a ringer, so what happened was, you brought in a player who hasn’t played with you and they didn’t really know how to play with your team,” he said.
There were some exceptions along the way, however, most notably in 2008 when Bella Bella ended Hydaburg’s record-breaking run of seven straight championships in the Senior Men’s division, with their ringer, Phil Nadrazsky, winning the MVP.
Eliminating the ringer, however, makes the playing field more fair for everyone, and besides, it also eliminates extra headaches for the ANBT committee.
“If you want a ringer, really, you should grab a player who is going to be your star,” said Haugan. “But the other problem is that when they bring in someone you don’t know, we don’t have the time to even check if he’s First Nations or not.”
For the 52nd edition of the ANBT, the Intermediates division is the lone bracket this year that is sticking to tradition: it’s a straight-forward 14-team draw, with the local team, the Friendship House Tribesmen, hoping to defend their title. But it won’t be easy, as Rupert’s first game will be versus the Skidegate-Metlakatla (Alaska) winner.
The Women’s division, meanwhile, has surprisingly dropped to 12 teams this year, as the defending champs, Metlakatla (Alaska) are unable to attend this year. This means Kitamaat draws the number-one, and they open the tournament against the Kispiox-Simpcw winner.
Two new teams have entered the Women’s draw, with Nanaimo making its first trip to the ANBT since the mid-1990s, and Simpcw is a first-timer, hailing from the outskirts of Kamloops.
For a second straight year, the Masters division will go with a simple 10-team draw, with defending champs Bella Bella once again the heavy favourites to win it all. New Aiyansh, last year’s runner-up, has endured a bit of a change with some of their players deciding to play for Kincolith instead, which could make the draw a lot more interesting.
As for the Senior Men’s draw, this bracket may raise the most eyebrows. There are 17 teams, three over the usual limit for a draw. But Haugan explained this year’s ANBT theme is the “Canoe Journey” that traversed the area last summer, concluding in the Nass Valley, so the ANBT wanted to make sure every single team along the way was invited.
“We had 16, but Greenville was out, so we invited them to come too,” said Haugan.
The Opening Ceremonies will once again be held Sunday night inside the Russell Gamble Gymnasium, and Haugan added that last year’s decision to move the Opening Ceremonies from Tuesday to Sunday was welcomed by everyone.
“Before, there were teams knocked out before we even got there,” he said.
Games in the Senior Men’s and Intermediates divisions get going on Sunday, starting at 8 a.m., while action in both the Women’s and Masters will start until Monday.
~Written by Patrick Witwicki. Image courtesy of the All-Native Basketball Tournament.