Perhaps there’s only one division where that exact statement can be said this year at the All Native Basketball Tournament. And the reason’s rather simple: teams like the Friendship House and the North Shore Wolves are in rebuild mode, as their players begin to graduate and move up to the senior division.
So with that in mind, this year’s intermediate’s door isn’t just wide open, it’s been ripped off its moorings, making this bracket rather tough to call.
Except for Muskeg News, that is.
1) Metlakatla, Alaska
This team always has a habit of taking a year or two off, and then reappearing with a vengeance. They did it in 2005, and again in 2008, and now, in 2011, ANBT fans can expect more of the same. Not much is known about this team, although word circulating throughout the villages is they have one player who, by all accounts, is unstoppable. Is it Ashton Hayward? From Metlakatla, it could be anyone, and despite a difficult opening draw against Skidegate, expect a return to the final from these guys.
2) North Shore Wolves
Wait a minute, did someone say “rebuild?” Yes, but North Shore can probably hang around one more year, and there are two reasons for this. Number one, they still get one last year out of 2009 MVP Desmond Pack. Number two, they received a much more favourable draw than the No. 1 seeded Friendship House, and won’t face any real test until the semi-final on Friday. So this can only mean one thing: a rematch of the 2008 Final, won by Metlakatla. Oh, that’s the word we were looking for: déjà-vu.
3) Friendship House
Make no mistake — college is important, and the Friendship House is a huge supporter when its young stars head off to light up a basketball court somewhere else in Canada. But this does have a tendency to cause difficulty back at home in Prince Rupert, and 2011 is no exception. Not only have a couple of key players from last year’s winning team moved up to senior ball, but Charlie Leeson, last year’s MVP, is also off playing college ball, and word has it that Adrian Robinson won’t be available either. Add a tough opening draw versus either Skidegate or Metlakatla, and repeating as champs will be tough for the local crew.
4) Massett THE DARK HORSE
This may look like a curious pick from the outside. After all, aside from Nico York, on paper, this young Haida squad may not look that strong. But they do have quickness, and if they lose their opener versus Vancouver, they will draw in to an easy portion of the loser’s bracket, and should be able to roll … right to a fourth-place finish.
The window has almost closed for this very strong team, as they always seem to end up with a brutal draw. This year, they should be fine, right up until they run headlong into the meat of the draw where Metlakatla, Skidegate, and/or the Friendship House will be waiting. Still, with Darren and Dan Metz still around for one more season, this team could surprise and go all the way.
Van-City had a great run last year, and led by Jamie Ross, there are those who think they can do it again. But speedy teams gave Vancouver fits last year, and it’s likely that will happen again in 2011 versus squads like Massett and the North Shore Wolves.
7) Bella Bella
A young up-and-coming team, Bella Bella is still probably a year or two away from making a serious charge at the ANBT. Jessel Housty gives the squad good court presence, but cracking the top five this year probably isn’t in the cards.
8) Lax Kw’alaams
Port Simpson was late in getting all their rosters into the ANBT, so not a lot is known about this team that two years ago, when led by Vernon Alexcee Jr., made a lot of noise at the All-Native Junior provincials. If Alexcee is still around, the Port has a good shot of making the top five, but eighth is probably where they’ll end up.
Ninth? I see a potential banning of The Mulleted One from Haida Gwaii with this prediction, but look at the draw. It’s arguably the most brutal draw of the tournament, as the Saints open versus Metlakatla, AK, and if they win that game, they face their arch-rivals the Friendship House next. And a loss in that opener means that likely they’ll still run into one of those two teams in the loser’s side of the bracket.
It’s all about Tyler Stevens for this team, and a fortunate decent opening draw against Hartley Bay. Even if they lose that game, they should still be able to notch at least one victory to ensure they’ll be back at the dance in 2012.
11) Hartley Bay
If Hartley Bay has one thing going for them, it’s rebounding: both Shawn and Tristan Reece give this squad a huge presence underneath. But after that, the roster weakens, and the two Reeces will have to stay out of foul trouble to give this team any hope at winning more than one contest.
Let’s get one thing straight — Travis Smith can score. At will. But the supporting cast just isn’t there, and an opener against Bella Bella hurts too. A look into the crystal ball is pretty clear: two-and-out.
Another young team, looking to build to the future. Jacob Aster has some game, and his teammates can probably ensure they’ll be close in every game. But note we said “close”, not “win.”
This team has struggled for success ever since their sharp-shooter Andrew Nyce moved up to the senior division, and 2011 is no different. They will be the first team sent home.
~Written by Patrick Witwicki