SKC Bison hope to return to AIHEC Championship stage

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THE SALISH KOOTENAI College Bison are in New Town North Dakota getting ready for the team's biggest tournament of the season the AIHEC National Tribal Tournament starting on March 1 at Four Bears Casino at New Town, N.D. (photo submitted by Zach Conko-Camel)

Last season the Salish Kootenai College men’s basketball fell one point short of another AIHEC Championship appearance and this year they hope to return to the top of the podium as they prepare to enter AIHEC March 1 at Four Bears Casino at New Town, N.D.

SKC coach Zach Camel said he hopes to have an even better tournament as he and his Bison team prep for the season’s biggest stage.

“It was a last-minute shot to sink us and they hit a three-point to win and they made it,” Camel said. “We are all fired up (for AIHEC) and got down with practice and everyone was hitting shots and that was good and we were all excited and ready to go,” Camel said.

This year the Bison have faced one of the toughest regular season schedules they’ve ever played with the entire NAIA Frontier League, a conference that they are in the process of someday joining, which would allow them to disperse more scholarships.

“We again scheduled our preseason and everything and (this year) we played the toughest teams we’ve ever played to get ready for (the AIHEC Tournament) with every Frontier school,” Bisons’ coach Zach Camel said. “I talked to the president of the Frontier League and they want us in there going that direction (towards joining the NAIA’s Frontier League) and we will probably also (schedule Frontier opponents) next year.”

This year the Bison will play AIHEC in a unique situation. The Bison will play on an NBA court situated in the middle of the casino.

“Having the game at a casino might add as an extra distraction,” Camel said. “However, me and my team have walked through the dangers of casinos and these kids are good kids and they understand why we are going for.”

Earlier in the season, SKC had to make adjustments playing some of the Pioneer League NAIA teams, but eventually it helped them prepare for the biggest portion of the season at AIHEC.

“We took our lumps early and we had our moments against some of the Frontier League teams and hopefully in the end we will have several winning moments (at AIHEC) and we will all be happy,” Camel said. “We have some real leadership this year with players like Tisen Fryberg, Akino Benson and Zachary Mills,” Camel said. “Mills is doing the best he can taking 20-plus credit and every quarter balancing school and basketball and being a leader that way and we have several leaders on our team and we sure look forward (to AIHEC) and I think we are ready.”

The Bison, as of press time, still hadn’t received the schedule of the AIHEC Division I Tournament opponents, and said they will continue to focus on themselves as they attempt to best last year’s third-place finish at AIHEC in South Dakota.

“We will play seven games in four days and that is a very tall order and it will take a big toll (on our players) and we have to be ready for that big haul,” Camel said. “We will keep working on building on our strengths during practice for the week.”

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