SKC Bison men capture Division II AIHEC basketball title

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THE SALISH Kootenai College pose after they captured the Division II AIHEC Title Sunday afternoon at 4 Bears Casino & Lounge in New Town, N.D. (photo courtesy of Zach Camel)

Salish Kootenai College guard Tyson Fryberg had intrinsic motivation headed into this season’s American Indian Higher Education Consortium basketball tournament at 4 Bear’s Casino & Lounge in New Town, N.D.

Last year, the Bison’s attempt to return to the AIHEC Championship game ended their quest for a then eleventh AIHEC title with a 121-118 loss in the semifinal game.

After SKC secured third place at AIHEC, Fryberg made a promise to Zach and J.R. Camel that he would help get his team their eleventh championship for the 2017-2018 season.

Motivated to make the 2017-2018 campaign special, Fryberg worked diligently in the off season to make his vision of an AIHEC title happen.

Fryberg, who was slowed down by a fractured tibia at the end of last season, went to worked immediately on his game after he healed the injury at his father’s house, determined to make this year special.

Fryberg, whose father suffered a stroke, continued to carry-on with his goals despite a multitude of distractions.

“When I first came here, I was excited and I wanted to win,” Fryberg recalled. “I didn’t think I would win three AIHEC titles. I wanted to get one more and I worked hard to get one more. At the beginning of the season, my dad had a stroke and I had to leave the team. I figured everything was going to be fine and I told the Camels I was going to get another title this year. I don’t make promises for nothing and I made a promise to my coach on his birthday when I texted him and I told him ‘I will get you your eleventh title this year. I promise.’”

When recovering from an injury, Fryberg said he had time to reflect on the season, and the time he devoted to thinking increased his motivation to hit the hardwood.

“I was injured for two months and I was motivated to do what I could to help my teammates,” Fryberg said. “It really dawns on you when you are able to shoot and I replayed those plays at AIHEC in my head.”

Fryberg, along with his co-captain Aquino Brinson, banned together to push them and the other five remaining teammates, who were left over from a team that initially started with 14 players and dwindled down to seven, to capture the Division II AIHEC Tournament.

“We all pushed hard this year to make sure losing at AIHEC wouldn’t happen again,” Fryberg said. “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. Our team was short with a roster of only seven guys and they gave it their all. I credit my teammates for everything and without them, I wouldn’t been able to have the 30-point games. I needed them to be successful.”

The Bison lost their first AIHEC game 101-99 in their pool play and made the team’s determination to bring home an AIHEC title even greater.

“We made sure that we didn’t go home empty-handed and it’s amazing winning an AIHEC championship,” Fryberg said. “We won titles during my time here and it’s crazy to think because it’s a lot bigger than just winning an AIHEC title. My little brothers want to come to SKC. It shows that regular kids from a reservation can leave the reservation and be successful.”

After the loss the Bison regrouped and set a new goal.

“We understand and set a new goal to get the Division II championship,” Fryberrg said. “Our team was all tired from pulling the heavy load. Our team was sluggish and tired but we kept fighting and pushing things to keep rolling our way. We worked and did things how we always wanted. We played as a team and outworked the other opponent in the AIHEC championship to win in overtime.”

Brinson said he felt the early tournament loss “woke his team up.”

“It happened two years ago and we lost our final game in pool play,” Brinson said. “Our plan was to stay focused during the tournament and not get down on each other. The loss got us determined. I felt like if we lose a game, it’s important to stay together. We learned from our mistakes and talked about what our problem was and what we need to do to get better.”

The loss just further motivated the team.

“We just pressed a little bit and definitely played hard with seven players and it really pushed us and at the end of those two weeks and they really conditioned and wouldn’t have to be tired in the long run and just things get us prepared for what we have to do. We have had a 10 players and we wouldn’t have to be tired and that just get us prepared for what we have to do.”

Bison coach Zach Camel said the loss indeed motivated his team.

“We had a whole day to think about (the loss) as we sat in different gyms and had to watch all of these games with a bad taste in our mouth,” Camel said. “We sat there and watched and talked about what we needed to improve on. We had a couple of plays go against us in a bad way and that is what happened.”

Camel said the team really focused on getting better and was determined to bring home their 11th consecutive AIHEC Tournament.

“Winning felt good and we learned from it,” Camel said. “We are working on it to get better. They did all of the things we asked them to do and really rose to the level. Our players did exactly what we asked. We were getting everyone’s best and everyone fought and tried to give us their best along with raising the level of play. Our players played a very important part in us winning AIHEC.”

Camel attributed the Bison’s success to his team playing a much tougher schedule this season against several NAIA schools in the Frontier League with the idea they will eventually become an NAIA sanctioned school and be able to distribute scholarships to players in the future.

“Every team was different and we thought they would run the same stuff but they all ran their own sets,” Camel said of the Frontier competition. “They would play man to man, zone and they all ran different plays. It was amazing. There was a lot of different ball-handlers and we didn’t see anyone at AIHEC that was at the Frontier level. I was so impressed with these different teams and different towns and I learned a lot. You think, after coaching for 18 years, you would get stuff all figured out but the Frontier teams brought something new to the table that we will try to incorporate into our own stuff.”

The Bison basketball team was playing with heavy hearts as one of their former players Cody Anderson, who was a member of the 2010 Bison team, passed away.

“When we got him, he was an 18-year-old kid and was a 6-foot-3 inches, 200-pound athletic guy when he came and was a 3-point shooter,” Anderson said. “He was a really good guy and everyone liked him. After winning a National (AIHEC) Championship, he went to Alaska and worked on one of the ships for three or four years. He stayed in touch and finished his degree.”

The Bison, who want someday to be a member of the NAIA, hope they will eventually make a successful transition into NAIA competition.

The Bison coaching staff said they were able to learn a lot when playing against several different styles in the Frontier League.

“We never saw the same thing in the Pioneer league,” Camel said “It was a match made in heaven and it was a big step forward to getting us to that Frontier league.”

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