After six years at the Junior All Native Basketball Tournament (JANT), Joe Charleson Jr. managed to lead a squad to a podium finish.
Charleson has been a familiar face at the prestigious youth hoops event, which attracts Indigenous clubs from across British Columbia.
Charleson coached the Tseshaht Pride, a girls’ under-17 squad, to a second-place finish in its division at this year’s tournament, which was held in Kelowna and wrapped up on Friday (March 25).
“This is the sixth year I’ve been to the tournament and the best finish before was Top 5 in 2019 with this group,” Charleson said.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of both the 2020 and ’21 tournaments.
Charleson was unsure of what to expect from the opposition at this year’s event.
“After two years of COVID and three years since the last tournament, it was a matter of who’s going to show up,” he said.
The girls’ under-17 division attracted 22 entrants.
“You can’t be mad with second place when there are 22 teams there (in your division),” said Tseshaht captain Jenelle Johnson-Sabbas.
The Pride played six contests at the tournament. It was defeated twice by the eventual champs, a host Kelowna squad called Syilx.
Tseshaht kicked off the tournament winning its first three matches.
For starters, it registered a convincing 79-11 victory against a team from Lytton.
Charleson believes that initial lopsided triumph set the tone for his charges for the remainder of the tournament.
“The confidence level in the players just went up, up and up,” Charleson said.
Tseshaht then racked up wins against teams from Vancouver and Bella Coola in its next two outings.
The Pride were then downed 71-54 by Syilx in its fourth game.
Despite that loss, the Tseshaht club was able to continue on since the tournament featured a double-knockout format, meaning squads had to lose two games before being eliminated from further action.
The Pride then downed a Greenville side 74-67 in its next match.
At the point Tseshaht and undefeated Syilx were the only two remaining clubs in the division. The Pride would have required two straight wins to capture the division since Syilx had yet to lose.
The Syilx club, however, was able to win the championship by defeating the Pride 66-50.
“They had a couple of good players and they were a good all-around team,” Charleson said.
Charleson added he was pleased with the efforts his charges displayed throughout the whole event.
“I would have been satisfied with wherever we finished,” he said. “The expectation was to have a really good run, which they did.”
Johnson-Sabbas believes her squad fared even better than they thought they could.
“We didn’t have high expectations,” she said. “If we made it to the semi-finals, that would have been good enough.”
The squad ended up bringing home some hardware, a trophy for its runner-up finish. All team members also received jackets for their team finish.
“It was a good way to end our season, bringing home second place,” Johnson-Sabbas said.
Four members of the Pride were also recognized for their efforts at the conclusion of the tournament.
Natalie Clappis was chosen as the best defensive player of the event. Sabbas-Johnson and Jennifer Dick were both selected as tournament all-stars. And Charleson was named the best coach in the division.
Charleson believes his squad will be capable of also having an impressive showing at next year’s tournament as well.
“I’m hoping to,” he said. “Our younger girls are coming along quite well.”
The Pride roster included just three players who will no longer be eligible to compete in the under-17 grouping.
Those who have aged out of the division are Sabbas-Johnson, Trinity Williams and Jayme Bulwer.
Other players on the Pride roster were Jayla Sabbas, Brandii Lucas, Kura Rorick, Jaiden Knighton, Naimah Robinson, Hailey Watts, Cassidy Watts and Taimanni Robinson.
The 2023 JANT will be hosted by the Snuneymuxw Native Sons in Nanaimo.
A total of 65 clubs participated at this year’s event.
“This week has really been a true celebration of our children and the importance of sport to wellness,” said tournament director Tara Montgomery. “Over the last week we have heard from young athletes, and their families, community members and coaches how happy they were to all be brought together and with the tournament in general.”
Members of the Pride returned home on Friday following their last tournament game.
Tseshaht First Nation staged a celebratory dinner for the club on Saturday.