Victor Bird realized that Wednesday’s under-19 basketball match versus Manitoba might have been his last at the North American Indigenous Games.
The 19 year old, who was part of Team Wisconsin’s under-16 men’s gold medalist team at the Regina Games three years ago, thus set out with a nothing to lose mentality against Team Manitoba.
“I felt like once we got on the court in the second half we said, ‘Screw it. This is our last game – we might as well go out with a bang’,“ he said. “That was my mentality, to go out there and give it my 100 per cent.”
The Wisconsinites certainly made a game of it after being down 52-26 heading into the break. Though the final was 81-70 they did outscore their undefeated opponents by 15 points in the second half.
Bird and his teammates will closely watch Thursday’s Manitoba-Washington match and they may be rooting for the team that defeated them today. If Manitoba can win again, then Wisconsin will technically have a shot at the playoffs.
The Wisconsin forward was understandably disappointed by his team’s performance after going all the way in 2014.
“I’m kind of saddened that we didn’t get as many people (out) as we did (at the Regina Games),” he said. “But it’s not something I can control.”
There are three other carryovers from that 2014 U16 team, Tavian Risingsun-Doud, Anthony Hernandez, and Crimsen Powless.
Bird grew up in western Wisconsin, about 45 miles (70 kilometres), from La Crosse, the home of Milwaukee Bucks prospect Bronson Koenig.
The former University of Wisconsin star point guard led the Badgers to two straight Sweet 16 appearances, and he was recently signed as a free agent by the Milwaukee Bucks.
Bird and Koenig are both from the Ho-Chunk Nation, a Tribe of roughly 6,500 people.
Someone from his home state, from the same Tribe, who is on the brink of making the NBA – you might think that Koenig would be an idol for Bird.
“Not really. I guess my biggest role model was the ‘Worm’ Dennis Rodman,” Bird said, after Wednesday’s loss to Manitoba. “I (think) it’s cool but lining up our games we weren’t exactly the same type because I’m more defensive, while (Koenig) is more of an offensive player.”
Despite being four years his senior Bird remembers watching Koenig play basketball in high school.
“We were in the same conference in high school,” Bird explained. “So whenever Aquinas (Koenig’s school) and Tomah (Bird’s school) played, we’d always go in after our freshman game and watch.
“I thought it was cool.”
Wisconsin’s success at NAIG is significant because of the state’s relatively small Aboriginal population. With around 50,000 people, the team has a much smaller pool to choose from, compared to Manitoba and other Canadian provinces.
Whether or not Wisconsin moves on, it will be a bittersweet end to Bird’s time at these Games.
“I bonded with these guys pretty well,” he said. “I wish I got to play more games with them. It was a cool experience.”