BASKETBALL: Juneteenth basketball tournament begins

Youth basketball players took part in the reformatted Danny R. Wright Juneteenth Basketball Tournament throughout Saturday at Permian High School.

The two-day tournament began on Saturday and will conclude Sunday with children ages 8-17 participating.

The 44th annual event is a part of the Black Cultural Council of Odessa’s Juneteenth Celebration.

In the past, the tournament has featured mostly ex-players from the Permian Basin with some current high school and college players participating.

However, this year’s tournament is for the youth and also features boys and girls divisions.

“It’s a great excitement and a big honor to be a part of such a monumental event,” Pasha Cornish, one of the girls coaches said. “The WNBA is making great gains as well as all of women’s basketball so it’s only right that Odessa is putting the girls on a good stage as well.”

Tournament games took place at Permian Fieldhouse as well as the practice gym.

For Cornish, the crucial part of this weekend’s tournament for her players is to help develop their game.

“The most important thing for the players is to get the experience (including) the growth and the physical trials of playing the game,” she said.

It wasn’t just teams from Odessa that were taking part in this year’s tournament either as players from as far as Presidio are playing in this year’s tournament.

Buena Vista Middle School also had a girls team competing.

“We’re pretty excited,” Buena Vista’s coach Beto Mandujano said. “We’re a small school but these girls have been playing together since third grade.”

It wasn’t his team’s first time playing in a tournament recently in the Odessa-Midland area, either.

“Last week, we played a tournament in Midland and this week I asked the girls if they wanted to come here and play,” Mandujano said. “They all decided to come here. It’s exciting. All our players are from Imperial.”

Wright talked about why this year’s tournament is more focused on the youth players.

“What I enjoy the most is the community having an event where everyone can support having the girls and the boys and the high schoolers,” Wright said. “As a coach at Permian, we wanted our youth in our facilities as much as possible. We want them, by the time they become freshman, to be familiar with the coaches and the facilities and feel at home when they come to school here … there’s some familiarity with the facility and the coaches and we have a chance to support them and to support us.”

For many coaches, this is not their first time being a part of the Danny R. Wright Juneteenth Tournament as some have played in it over the years.

“It’s surreal,” Geremy Willard said who graduated from Permian in 1995 and coaches the Odessa Troops in this week’s tournament. “Having grown up in Odessa, being born and raised here, I’ve played in this tournament several times. Now, I get to coach my son’s team and coach kids his age. It’s a full-circle moment.”

He said his players are enjoying this tournament.

“We’ve been playing in several tournaments but being from Odessa, we wanted them to play and represent in the Juneteenth Tournament,” Willard said. “The kids are having fun. They get to play against friends. It’s a win-win. It’s a great event.”

Willard also talked about the experience his players are getting from competing this weekend.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Willard said. “Any time you can take a group of kids and bring them together and teach them life lessons, it’s great. It’s also great to be playing in front of a home crowd, in front of the community. You can’t beat that. We’re glad to be here.”

Decobiaen Williams, another coach, echoed those thoughts.

“It’s an amazing feeling to be out here in the Juneteenth tournament,” Williams said. “I grew up playing in it as well as a child. Now I get to fill the shoes of my mentors and coach in it. I get to pass the tradition on to these kids and help develop them as players and see them participate in this tournament.”

His son, Ellington Williams, is also having fun.

“It’s good to play,” Ellington Williams said. “It gives me a way to escape everything from the world. It makes me calm.”