Oree Foster
Staff Writer

Heavy hoop tournament action at Chinle's Wildcat Den

December 4, 2018 by Oree Foster, AZPreps365


Fans attending the Choice Wireless Classic-sponsored girl's and boy's basketball tournament at Chinle's spacious Wildcat Den will be treated to watching some of the state's top prep basketball players and outstanding teams.

A large crowd is anticipated each session of the three-day tournament, which begins Thursday morning at 9 a.m. Nine games, including four girl's and four girl's games are scheduled throughout the day.

The tournament continues on Friday, where eight winner's bracket games will be played in the Wildcat Den at 9 a.m. Four consolation contests, tipping off at 10:30 a.m. with the first game, will be played in the Chinle Community Center.

Saturday's action begins at 9 a.m. The girl's third place game is scheduled for 3 p.m., followed by the boy's third place contest at 4:30 p.m.

The girl's championship game tips off at 6 p.m. The boy's title contest is set for 7:30 p.m.

Northern and southern Arizona schools fill the girl's tournament bracket.

"I am really excited about the girl's teams in the tournament," said Chinle Athletic Director Shaun Martin. "We do not have an entry fee to play in the best high school facility in the state. So we try to cater to the needs of these great teams."

Martin said teams, such as Safford, Florence and Mayer will have an opportunity to see and play against quality northern schools.

"I'm looking forward to seeing Safford again this year. They are always tough and go deep into the state tournament. I am looking forward to seeing Florence this year. We have not had them (Florence) come up north before. I think they see that with our northern schools in the Final Four last year. They need to see our teams early. Mayer, the 1A school, is also is the girl's tournament field. They shoud play well with all the teams competing."

The boy's tournament field includes Northwest Christian of Phoenix and Blue Ridge, who were 3A State Runners-Up last year. Tournament host Chinle has a strong team this year.

"With the quality of teams on the boy's bracket, we should see some exciting show downs and some close games," Martin said. "I am personally excited to see the different styles of play go against one another. Normally, we try to have the non-local teams play local teams in the first round. Due to travel issues, we had to face up Blue ridge and Northwest Christian in the first round. That should be an exciting first round game. After that, with the 3-game guarantee, we should see a little battle back through the consolation side of the bracket to provide an exciting championship game. This should be a fun weekend."

Martin said after collaborating with Chinle's coaching staff and head coaches from the other schools, they all agreed that the 3-game guarantee is the best set up for the early season tournaments.

"We have to remember we are just beginning December and the focus for most teams right now is improvement," Martin stated. "Overall, the coaches enjoy the set up providing the ability for their teams to learn and progress. The student-athletes enjoy additional games and the fans enjoy the games that may never happen in the regular season. When will Blue Ridge ever play Rock Point. Rock Point is looking great this year. So if that match-up happens, you bet it will be a fun game to watch."

Martin said playing in the Wildcat Den is a great experience no one will ever forget lifetime.

"The school that plays in the Wildcat Den for the first time is always fun," Martin explained. "I personally meet them at the team entrance and walk them into the stadium. I get to see the faces of the student-athletes and coaches when they first see the facility. I get to hear the excitement in their voices as they say things like, 'this is amazing. Thiss better than most college arenas.' I then explain what the Wildcat Den looks and feels like during the championship games of the tournament when the fans of the Navajo Nation show up to cheer them on. They really get excited."

Martin said coaches enjoy bringing their teams to the Wildcat Den and compete before large crowds.

"The coaches enjoy the Wildcat Den because it provides the experience of the state championships with the facility and the crowds," Martin remarked. "I hope as many people come to the tournament as possible to keep our style of basketball alive here on the Navajo Nation. It's what makes it unique and it's a chance to celebrate our children."

A girl's game at 9 a.m. between Red Mesa and Mayer, kickoffs the tournament. Many Farms faces Pinon in a boy's game at 10:30 a.m. The 12 p.m. contest has Safford meets Pinon in a girl's game. In a boy's contest at 1:30 p.m., Red Mesa faces Window Rock. The 3 p.m. game has the Red Mesa - Mayer loser facing the Safford - Pinon loser in a girl's contest.

A boy's game at 4:30 p.m. has Northwest Christian taking on Blue Ridge. In a girl's contest at 6 p.m. will pit the Red Mesa - Mayer winner meeting Chinle in a girl's game. The final game of the day has Chinle facing Rock Point at 7:30 p.m. in a boy's game.