LAWRENCE, KANSAS – The National Basketball Association’s minor league basketball program known as the D-League tips off their season this week and when it does there will be three Native American athletes on the rosters for everyone to pull for.
Ben Strong, Damen Bell-Holter, and Chief Kickingstallionsims will all play with in the D-League this season in hopes of getting call-ups or assignments that could land them some playing time in the NBA. In the 2011-2012 season, an estimated twenty-seven percent of the NBA players on a roster had spent some time in the D-League system. NBA teams can call up players as many times as they choose, from their respective affiliate teams, throughout the NBA season. Which gives hope of seeing a Native American playing for an NBA franchise.
The NBA D-League season is made up of 50 regular-season games plus a postseason and runs from November to April.
Now let’s look at our players:
Ben Strong (Red Lake Chippewa). Photo via Picture Iowa.
Ben Strong, (Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians) a 6-11 center, is Indian country’s most seasoned veteran in the D-League, Ben will begin his third season with the Iowa Energy. Last season, Ben started in 21 games for the Energy and averaged 5 points and 5 rebounds per game and shot 44% from the field. Ben averages about 20 minutes a game and should have a break out year for the Iowa Energy this season. Prior to playing with the Energy, Ben spent a few year’s overseas working on his game and learning how to use his natural athletic ability he has for a big man. While in school Guilford College he was a former NCAA DIII Player of the year and averaged 25 points and 10 rebounds per game for his college career and is the schools second all-time leading scorer. The Iowa Energy affiliate NBA teams are: The Chicago Bulls, Denver Nuggets, New Orleans Pelicans, Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Washington Wizards. Anyone of these teams could call Ben up to play during the season.
Ben Strong, (Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians)
Damen Bell-Holter (Haida Tribe of Alaska) a 6-9 forward, will begin his first year in the D-League with the Maine Red Claws and affiliate team with the Boston Celtics and the only team affiliated with the world champion franchise. In the NBA preseason, Damen represented Indian Country’s best chance to finally have a Native American make an NBA roster with the Celtics when he received an invitation to the Boston preseason camp by new head coach Brad Stevens. Already playing overseas when he got the call, Damen returned to the states and was able to work out nearly a month before the preseason started with the Celtics and saw a few minutes of playing time during a few games of the preseason NBA. Damen was released on the final day of roster cuts but was extended the opportunity to play with the Red Claws which he has decided to do rather than return to overseas basketball. A former standout power forward at Oral Roberts University, he will battle in the paint and stepout and hit the 20 foot shot when needed. Damen said, “I’ll be improving and working towards getting back onto an NBA team and excited to play against good competition and prove myself.”
Grlenntys Chief Kickingstallionsims, Jr.(Navajo)
Grlenntys Chief Kickingstallionsims, Jr. (Navajo) a 7-1 center, will also be playing in the D League for the first time this season as well. Chief is probably not the most widely known for his play on the court of this group but Chief Kickingstallionsims has improved his game over the years to be good enough to be drafted in the 3rd round by the Austin Torros. Chief played his college ball at Alabama State University where he averaged 8 points and 3 rebounds per game. After finishing college, Chief went to Romania where he has been ever since and averaged 8 points per game there as well. He does move really well for a guy his size but needs some real coaching to improve to get to the next level. Luckily, now that he is in the D League he will get some attention to areas he needs to improve on. Look for Chief to come off the bench this season and give some quality minutes on the defensive side of the court and grab some rebounds. The Austin Torros are only affiliated with the San Antonio Spurs organization.
Best of luck this upcoming season to all three of these talented players, in hopes that that they become future NBA players. Also, please check the NBA D-League schedule on nba.com/dleague website to see if a game is going to be on your area and go out and support these Native American athletes.
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in NDNSPORTS.COM