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'Rez ball' takes center stage during NABI

Amid the tournament madness of the summer viewing period, players sometimes try to add a dash of flash and pizzazz to their games.

In the middle of a gym in an Orlando or Chicago, it can sometimes look showy and can falter if a teammate isn't expecting the no-look pass.

This week, in gyms scattered throughout Phoenix, it won't look a touch out of the ordinary.

As the sixth-annual Native American Basketball Invitational heats up, the flash and dash of "rez ball" will be on display for all – including NCAA coaches – to see.

NABI, the first all-Native American tournament sanctioned by the NCAA, gives 32 girls teams and 48 boys teams a chance to play in front of college coaches and a shot at playing in Saturday's title game at the US Airways Center.

Co-founded by GinaMarie Scarpa, tournament director, and former NBA player Mark West, currently the vice president of Player Programs for the Phoenix Suns, the tournament has received support from the Suns, WNBA's Phoenix Mercury and Nike, but until last year was not an approved NCAA viewing tournament.

A rule interpretation change in the NCAA's "same states" rule allowed tribal teams which may have players from a widespread region across multiple state lines, but in one tribal nation, to be included in viewing tournaments.

"This NCAA rule change and new sanction is arguably one of the most significant developments to ever occur in Native and college basketball," Scarpa said at the time.
The addition of NCAA coaches has drawn more teams to the event, reaching 80 boys and girls squads in 2008.

The teams on the girls' side – with entries from New York and North Carolina, but mostly from Arizona and nearby states – don't come from quite as far and wide as the 48 boys teams – including Florida, Canada and Alaska – but all feature the same characteristics of rez ball: an offense based not on set plays, but rather a run-and-gun mentality, impressive speed and even more impressive teamwork.

Among the teams competing: 4 Love of the Game, 2007's girls champion is back from Henryetta, Okla.'s, Muscogee (Creek) Nation to defend its title; a Cherokee team from Tahlequah, Okla., where Angel Goodrich and Sequoyah High is based, is in the mix, and the Rez Girls, a White Mountain Apache tribe from Whiteriver, Ariz., put the biggest hurt on its Monday opponent with 87 points.

Games kicked off Monday with each team playing once per day until Thursday, when bracket play begins.

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Mindi Rice is a staff writer for ESPN HoopGurlz. She previously was an award-winning sportswriter at the Tacoma News Tribune and barista at Starbucks. She grew up in Seattle where she attended Roosevelt High School before graduating from the University of Oregon with a degree in journalism. Mindi can be reached at mindi@hoopgurlz.com.