By. Alex Caprariello
At the beginning of his junior season, Desert Mountain High School forward Antwann Antonio didn’t think he was going to make the varsity team. By the end of the year, he was a full-fledged starter.
With his senior season officially behind him, he can look back and admire a two-year varsity career that ended with Antonio leading his team in points, offensive rebounds and steals per game.
Now, the soon-to-be high school graduate can look forward to a new season. Antonio, who has White Mountain and San Carlos Apache roots, has decided to continue playing for his intertribal Native team, the Arizona Warriors.
This summer, the Warriors hope to repeat as champions in the Native American Basketball Invitational, a tournament that is the largest all-Native basketball event in North America. Competition begins in late June in Maricopa and culminates with the finals at Talking Stick Resort Arena on July 2.
Listed at 6-feet–4 and 210 pounds, it’s hard to believe a player of his stature wouldn’t make a high school basketball team. But at the time, the skillsets of his Desert Mountain teammates seemed intimidating.
“I thought I was going to make JV, so many great players here,” Antonio said.
It didn’t help that Antonio missed the prior summer’s workouts due to a broken hand. Coach Chris Satterlie had just taken control of the team in his first year, and he used those workouts as a tool to judge the players he had inherited.
No where to be found, Antonio’s status on the team was a question mark from the beginning, Sattelerie said.
“He was near the bottom of that list at the time,” the coach said. “I didn’t really know a lot about him and I didn’t really think he would be an impact varsity guy when I first saw him.”
But as time progressed and Satterlie was able to spend more time getting to know his players, there were certain characteristics that Antonio showed on the court that simply could not be ignored.
“Consistently in practice he was battling with guys,” Satterlie said. “What stood out to me was his teammates liked him and he worked really hard.”
Antonio’s efforts on the court were quickly noticed by the coaching staff, and they rewarded him with limited minutes late in games. Knowing that each second on the court is valuable, Antonio made due with what he was offered.
Once he proved himself in those situations, his minutes increased. Slowly but surely, he found himself on the court more and more. By the end of the season, they were calling his name over the loudspeaker before tip-off.
“He’s an example of somebody who took control and he’s a guy that we’ll be telling stories down the line with our younger Desert Mountain kids,” Satterlie said. “He went from a kid that was going to be the 10th, 11th, 12th guy on varsity to starting his junior year down the stretch.”
The final game of his junior season didn’t stop Antonio from finding the court. Instead, he picked right up with his Native club team, the AZ Warriors 1. Antonio continued to develop his skillsets while traveling to play in club tournaments and occasional out-of-state Native tournaments.
“All of the work that I’ve put in over the summer with my coaches helped me out,” Antonio said.” “Like my footwork, I spent so much time with my footwork this summer.”
The work he put in went to good use. The high point of his summer came in July, when the Warriors won the Gold Division championship in the 13th annual Native American Basketball Invitational at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
And Antonio’s goals continue to be high for this upcoming summer.
“Ever since freshman year I’ve played with those guys, so we have a really good chemistry,” he said. “We expect to win another championship.”
Antonio has played with a handful of Native teams since his days growing up on the reservation and he played in his first NABI tournament in eighth grade.
When asked about what the NABI tournament means to him, Antonio beams with pride as he reflects on the reservation and Native teams he’s played on for all of his life.
“All of my family members ahead of me have been playing in it, and being a Native American, it’s something you want to play in and win.”
Antonio hopes to make his family proud in his last summer of NABI eligibility before heading off to college. He is considering attending Arizona State to study architecture.
It’s uncertain whether or not Antonio will pursue basketball beyond this summer’s NABI tournament. But at this point, one thing is clear: In a career that has been filled with highs and lows on a variety of teams, Antwann Antonio has kept his head high and built his life around a game he loves.