FARMINGTON — The third annual New Mexico American Indian Classic begins today, giving student athletes a chance to combine basketball with educational opportunities.

The boys and girls basketball teams from Navajo Prep and Shiprock Northwest, along with the Piedra Vista girls team, will participate in the three-day event. The tournament, which takes place at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho and the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in Albuquerque, also offers kids the opportunity to attend workshops at the educational fair on a variety of topics, including college preparation, student-athlete health and money management.

The first round of the tournament will be held at high school campuses across the state, including Navajo Prep, whose girls team will host Piedra Vista. Navajo Prep's boys team will host Red Mesa, Ariz., before finishing the event on Friday and Saturday at the Star Center and SIPI.

The Eagles have participated in the event each season, and girls head coach Rainy Crisp said her team has had multiple opportunities to attend the workshops during the tournament. She said her players have found them informative.

"The girls found the one about essay writing and college applications interesting," Crisp said. "It gave them tips on how to make an essay really stand out, and they found the information about going through the college application process to be very valuable."

Combining the workshops with a basketball tournament is something that Crisp would like to see more often, because it allows the kids to hear information about college from another voice.

"It's great when the student athletes hear from different people how important it is to do something like applying early for college," she said. "They're so used to hearing it from teachers and parents, but at place like a basketball tournament, it hits home a little bit more for some of them. I think it's very beneficial."

As for the competitiveness of the tournament, Crisp likes the variety of teams that participate. This year's girls bracket features Albuquerque Academy, Navajo Pine and Laguna-Acoma.

"Basketball-wise, it's a great tournament for us," she said. "We see a lot of teams that we wouldn't normally."

Joshua Perry covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577 or Follow him on Twitter @jperrysuu.