By Sam Laskaris
British Columbia’s Skidegate Saints will once again be welcoming basketball squads from throughout the world for an international tournament.
The Saints of Haida Gwaii will host the second annual World Indigenous Basketball Challenge this summer. The event will be staged Aug. 8 to Aug. 12 at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C.
The Skidegate club had travelled to New Zealand in 2015 to square off in some exhibition contests against the Maori national squad.
The Maori side was keen to return the favour this past year and travel to B.C. The Saints’ organization then decided to see which other teams might be interested in taking part in the sporting/cultural exchange.
As it turned out, there was tons of interest from national and club teams from around the globe. As a result, 16 men’s teams participated in the inaugural World Indigenous Basketball Challenge this past August.
Besides the Maori club, other international entrants included clubs from Bermuda, Somalia, South Sudan, Tonga and Zambia.
The other participating teams were from across North America.
As for this year’s tournament, it will be expanding to include a four-team women’s division. But organizers will be capping the number of clubs in the men’s grouping and keep it at the same number as a year ago.
If they wanted to do so, however, they could attract a considerably bigger field.
“We’ve had over 40 national and club teams outside of North America contact us since last year’s tournament,” said Dave Wahl, who is the Saints’ head coach and doubles as the tournament director.
Wahl, however, said organizers will keep the number of participating men’s teams this year to 16. That will include eight international squads and eight from Canada or the United States.
For logistical and financial reasons, Wahl said organizers did not want to add even more squads.
“If we did we’d have to find another venue to hold more games,” adding tournament dates would also have to be extended, which would result in longer stays and additional expenses for out-of-town clubs.
Wahl said organizers can afford to be selective in those they accept into this year’s tournament.
A year ago some international squads that had expressed interest in taking part were unable to secure their proper travel documents in time or raise sufficient funds to attend.
The national squad from South Sudan won last year’s event. And they will be back to defend their crown.
“If South Sudan is able to bring all of their global talent, they should be the favourite,” Wahl said. “They have some players in the NBA. They also have players who are living and playing in Australia, in the United States and across Canada too.”
Besides the Maori and South Sudan national squads, organizers have already accepted the national teams from Bermuda and Zambia. Also taking part will be a squad from Tonga and the Australian Indigenous club.
As for the women’s division, the host team will be the Heiltsuk Nation side from Bella Bella, B.C. Also taking part will be the Maori women’s national side.
Organizers will announce the two other participating clubs in the women’s grouping, another international club and another one from Canada, in the near future.
Desi Collinson, one of the Saints’ stars who is helping out with organizational details of this year’s tournament, is thrilled a women’s category has been added to the event.
“Women mean so much to people's culture and to the growing of a community anywhere on earth,” he said. “It's important to recognize this at as a cultural group and that being able to honour our women and making sure we hold them in high esteem in any way is necessary.
“With the love Indigenous women have for the sport of basketball and the passion they have makes for an exciting proud moment to be able to announce the women's division to the World Indigenous Basketball Challenge.”
As for the host Saints, they will be looking to improve upon their fourth-place finish from last year. Collinson, who was unable to compete at the 2016 event because of a leg injury, believes that is possible.
“We have just as much as a chance of winning or advancing to the final game as any top team in the challenge would,” he said.
Wahl believes the fact members of the Saints had to deal with the planning for the tournament perhaps hampered their play a year ago.
“We lost to good teams,” Wahl said. “But I think we also took on a lot with the organizational aspects and it took a way a bit from our performance. This year I hope we can focus a little bit more on the basketball side of it.”