Earlier this month it was announced that Ignacio resident Hilda Garcia, now about to begin her senior year at Durango High School, had received quite a unique off-season honor.
Following the Global Elite Sports Association/RezBall Affiliate Native American Top 50 Basketball Combine & Camp, www.d1nation.com publisher Max Ivany evaluated Garcia as the event's ninth-best college-capable talent.
"Let me tell you, it was an experience!" she recalled Wednesday afternoon. "I'm so thankful and grateful. I met a lot of great players, and there was a lot of different coaches, a D-I college coach, a junior-college coach-and techniques." She met former NBA guard Milt Palacio, who played for Vancouver, Phoenix, Cleveland, Toronto and Utah, as well as former WNBA guard Angel Goodrich, who suited up for Tulsa and Seattle.
"It was breathtaking, honestly, because I just love basketball!"
Only 25 girls (and as many boys) were chosen for the event, and each had to be nominated to apply by her respective high school coach, athletic director, or AAU club coach.
"It was a tough all-day selection process to choose all of these talented Native American athletes," GESA founder Derrick Stevens, who played at Colorado State University, said in a pre-camp statement. "But...we feel we have the best available talent out there in Indian Country that will benefit from some of the best coaches and trainers in the business."
"Derrick....made it to where it was like college," Garcia said of the camp. "We had to be up and ready by five o'clock in the morning, then do our first workout. We then went to breakfast, to the gym, then to lunch, the classroom, back to the gym... Didn't finish until 11 o'clock at night! It was intense, but I liked it."
"The recruiting landscape is dynamic and ever-changing," Ivany's opening remarks on the D1 Nation website emphasized. "The prospect has the opportunity to change the perception of their place in the recruiting stratosphere by increasing their commitment, desire and level of training."
The camp was held at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan.
Rated #1 at the Top 50 was Broken Bow, Oklahoma's 6'5" senior post Aspen Williston, a teammate of Garcia and others-including fifth-rated MacKenzie Kinsel-on the Native All-Star Select Blue team. The Blue team defeated the Red team 74-63 in a camp-concluding showdown.
"Coming from a small town and having such an opportunity, to see how they play, the competition - it was an eye-opener for me," declared Garcia, a Diné and a Navajo Nation representative. She scored "about six points" in the feature game. "Made me more determined and ready."
"Garcia is similar to...Kinsel," stated Ivany, comparing Garcia to the Navajo Nation-representing guard, about to start her senior year at 5A Desert Edge High in Goodyear, Ariz., after averaging 12.6 points per game.
"She was a 'quiet' player," Garcia recalled of Kinsel, "but me and her, we worked good together. Had the same chemistry and could read what we each were going to do."
"They were very similar in build and skill set," concurred Ivany, who has personally coached over 120 Division I players. "(Garcia) just needs to assert herself more often."
And with DHS standout guard Katrina Chandler having graduated and committed to D-II Colorado Mesa in Grand Junction, Garcia will have to in order to keep the Demons strong in the 4A/5A Southwestern League.
"They really emphasized how to be a smart player, and it's going to help me because we've got a lot of young players on my team," Garcia said. "So I'm going to be 'taking the lead,' if you know what I mean."
Durango went 17-8 overall, 6-2 in the SWL this past winter, and reached the Class 4A State Tournament's 'Sweet 16' phase with Chandler averaging a reported 15.4 points per game and Garcia 9.7. She had to sit out the early portion of the season due to CHSAA rules after transferring from Ignacio High School.
"It's going to help me a lot," said Garcia of the camp. "I was thinking about things that the coaches said, and we're going to have a great season. It's going to be a challenge, but I think we'll be fine."
ALSO NOTABLE: Heading to Colorado, to play for and study at NCAA Division II Adams State University in Alamosa, will be fifth-rated Top 50 boys' prospect Xanier Littlehead-a Northern Cheyenne representative and St. Labre Indian School product from Montana.
"He played with a high motor and is a perfect example of finding and accepting the correct college fit," read Ivany's comments. "Adams...is a great choice for him."