Poplar Cager Takes Her Skills To Vegas

Demonstrating her abilities on the court at recent AAU tournaments in Las Vegas, Nev., and Salt Lake City, Utah, a Poplar Middle School student will soon begin her seventh basketball camp this summer to further hone her skills before school starts later this month.

Mattie Ayers, the 11- year-old daughter of Felicia Falls Down and Matthew Ayers, both of Poplar, plays for G.O. Hoops - Gifted Outliers, an elite travel AAU team based in Bozeman and comprised of fifth- and sixth-grade girls from western and southern Montana. Ayers is the only member of the U12 squad from northeast Montana.
G.O. Hoops - Gifted Outliers has several AAU teams for various age groups, including Montana Native Elite.

Mecklen Davis of Bozeman, a past Montana State University point guard, coaches Ayers’ team. She came to Davis’ attention through the parents of another girl on his team, Tallie Harris of Lockwood. She is Ayers’ cousin. Harris, who has been growing up in Lockwood near Billings, is from Poplar and is enrolled on the Fort Peck Reservation.

Ayers, who will begin sixth grade late this month, has played organized basketball since she was in third grade. She will attend Back 2 School Skills Camp, a three-day G.O. Hoops camp at Shrine Auditorium in Billings beginning Tuesday, Aug. 14. On Saturday, Aug. 11, Ayers will participate in Above The Rim, a 3-on-3 tournament in Billings.

“One more camp and then we’re done. And, then, back to school,” Falls Down said. “She’s learning. She’s learning a lot from the camps,” she said.

Other camps Ayers attended have been in Poplar, Billings and other locations in Montana. One was an intensive week-long camp with daily training from 8 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. at Rocky Mountain College in Billings.

Falls Down said the team held a 3-on-3 tournament and other fundraising activities to fund the trips to the Salt Lake City and Las Vegas tournaments.

Both of Ayers’ parents have contributed financially for travel and lodging costs to attend both out-of-state tournaments and several camps and other basketball activities in Montana.
“Now, I know what were in for.” Falls Down said of fundraising for her daughter’s plans to continue to play for Davis on his teams for older girls. “We’ll start sooner now that we know what we’re expecting.”

In Salt Lake City, Ayers’ team finished fourth but did not place in the Jam On It Las Vegas Classic at the Las Vegas Convention Center where the team played up one division against slightly older girls.

In Las Vegas, there were nationally-ranked teams from throughout the United States and several from other countries. Ayers said players on some opposing teams were speaking languages other than English.

Ayers returned from Las Vegas last week. That trip also afforded her opportunities to visit attractions including the Circus Circus hotel and Freemont Street Experience, and to go swimming and to movies.

Ayers has also trained with Frontier Elementary School athletic director Marianne Zilkoski Rees, who holds camps at Frontier that are affiliated with the Skillz and Drillz program.
“She’s very supportive of Mattie,” Falls Down said.

Ayers’ ambitions include attending the University of Montana in Missoula and playing women’s basketball with a scholarship.
Her ambitions rise higher than that.

“I want to play in the WNBA. That’s my dream,” Ayers said.

During games played the last few years at Poplar High School against the Malta M’ettes, Ayers became acquainted with former Malta High School standout athlete and now Lady Griz player Sophia Stiles.

“She really looks up to Sophia Stiles,” Falls Down said.

Stiles has sent Ayers cards and letters.

Ayers also runs cross country at Poplar Middle School.