Training clinic strives to boost basketball participation among indigenous youth

As the NCAA Women’s Final Four continues in Minneapolis, local groups are using the basketball tournament as an opportunity to grow the sport.

At a Saturday event, Native American basketball greats coached the youth at a training event at the Minneapolis American Indian Center.

“Opening the door here of what we can do to help natives know what opportunities they can have and the possibilities that are out there for them,” said Grace White, a basketball player for Valparaiso University.

White calls it indigenizing the game of basketball by shining a spotlight on natives who often feel in the dark.

“When you come from a place of poverty, oppression and traumatic experiences, you don’t even think of that next move for yourself and what you can achieve as a native person,” White said.

White was the first in her tribe to commit to a Division I college for basketball.

She said in her community, kids often face barriers making it harder to excel in sports, but she’s hoping her story can be a source of inspiration.

“I’m getting my master’s degree right now all paid for because of basketball. Some crazy opportunities because I worked to play basketball and loved the game,” she said.

Ryneldi Becenti, the first Native American to play in the WNBA, was among the mentors at Saturday’s event.

“As a little kid, basketball is everything we wanted to do. I always tell people basketball’s our ticket. We love the game and we have a passion for it,” Becenti said.

She broke through barriers and she’s hoping to empower future generations to do the same.

“These kids here, we want to inspire them so hopefully one day we can see them in that limelight of the NCAA,” Becenti said.