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CNMI: Expanding horizons in 2004 - Jan 17, 2004

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The president of the Basketball Association of the Northern Mariana Islands has not given up on the Commonwealth becoming a relevant basketball force once again in the region.
In fact, Rufino Aguon is jumpstarting the national basketball program this year by sending national teams to a couple on off-island tournaments in the next few months.
First up for BANMI is assembling a team of 18-and-under players to compete in the 2004 Marianas Invitational Basketball Tournament in Tinian this March. Aguon will personally coach the Saipan All-Stars in the competition, where they are the defending champions.
"Unfortunately, national disasters hijacked the staging of the MIBT last year. We will defend what we won in 2002 and hopefully build from there," he said.
And then on July, BANMI will be sending a crack national team composed of the best possible players from the CNMI for the 2004 Micronesian Basketball Tournament to be held on Guam.
Aguon and his assistants are so dead serious in the MBT that he has invited former national players in Tinian to attend tryouts, which began last week.
"Tryouts were by invitation only. Players that have played in previous BANMI leagues before were the only ones picked. Our final decision will not be based on basketball skills, talent, athleticism and height alone but will also depend on their attitude and how they mesh with teammates on the floor," said Aguon.
The BANMI president and many-time national team coach hopes the exposure in the two regional basketball competitions will not only season his players but also put CNMI basketball back in the map.
"I hope that the off-island competitions we committed to will overall enhance our knowledge of the game and make us better players and coaches," he said.
Aside from tournaments abroad, Aguon also wants CNMI basketball to improve on two other fronts.
He wants officiating on the islands to get better as well as develop new coaches for the future.
"We need to encourage more coaches and referees to buy into the system we are developing. We [current BANMI officials and coaches] cannot do this forever and we should always be in constant search for new and fresh talent out there," said Aguon.
On a scale of 1-10, the BANMI president rates 2003 as a six. He said the setback by the men's team in the Micronesia Basketball Tournament last November and BANMI's failure to field a team in the Suva, South Pacific Games were definite low points.
Aguon, however, noted that the women's team's victory in Palau, the obvious growth of BANMI's youth programs - Rotary, IVYBL and 25-and-under tournaments - and the certification of referees to Level II and III more than made up for the bad times.
He thanked BANMI year-round supporters like Verizon, Pacific Trading Co., and Florence Kirby and Tom Tebuteb of the Governor's Office, and Rep. Ray Tebuteb and Rep. Andrew Salas for all their contributions in 2003.
Aguon also singled out Division of Sports and Recreation director Tony Rogolifoi and his staff over at the Gilbert C. Ada Gymnasium for another job well-done last year. Last but not the least, he also expressed his gratitude to the parents and fans that always come out and watch games and wishes they will continue to do so again this year.


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