Credit an Alaskan for Miami's tournament participation

Former South star "absolutely made it happen,"

Anchorage Daily NewsNovember 24, 2011 

Not just anyone can persuade a couple of dozen people to up and leave sunny Florida for a mid-November trip to Alaska to take in sub-zero temperatures, knee-deep snow and a Thanksgiving Day snowstorm.

And Sylvia Bullock isn't just anyone.

Bullock, a graduate of South High, is the reason this year's Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout has a marquee team. Bullock is a 6-foot-2 senior forward for the seventh-ranked Miami Hurricanes women's basketball team, which abandoned plans to spend the holiday at home playing in its own tournament so that Bullock could return to Alaska and play in her hometown tournament.

Had it not been for a deal struck after Miami successfully recruited Bullock, the Hurricanes wouldn't have been anywhere near a blizzard this week.

"No way," Miami coach Katie Meier said. "It's asking a lot of our kids. It's a heck of a trip. It's a real challenging trip and we have a real challenging preseason.

"Sylvia absolutely made it happen."

Bullock, an on-court leader whose off-court duties this week included patiently telling teammates that, no, they won't have to eat penguin while they're in Anchorage, has been waiting for this trip longer than she's even been playing for the Hurricanes.

"Before I committed, I made it a known fact that I wanted to come back to play in this tournament," she said.

Any college kid would love to come home for Thanksgiving on the school's dime, especially if home and school are separated by four time zones. Anyone of any age would relish the chance to return home and star in their own success story in front of cheering fans.

Bullock's return is about that, and more. It's about playing in a Miami uniform for the first time in front of mother Roxanne. And it's about continuing a family tradition that has no rival in the 34 years of the Shootout.

"It's the first time I've seen the team," Roxanne Bullock said Wednesday at Sullivan Arena, where the Hurricanes fended off UAA 72-55 to advance to Thursday's championship game. "I know the names. It's been nice to finally meet them."

Roxanne and Clarence Bullock deserve some kind Shootout award for productivity. Sylvia is their third child to play in the tournament, and as far as anyone can remember, no other family has had three kids play in the Shootout, much less for three different teams.

Sylvia's brother Peter, who now plays professionally in Norway, starred for UAA in four Shootouts from 2000-03 and made the all-tournament team in 2001, 2002 and 2003. A 6-6 center, he is UAA's all-time leading Shootout scorer with 213 points, including 37 in a 2002 game against Wyoming that ranks him fourth (with three others) on the tournament's list of single-game scoring leaders. His 36 rebounds in three games in 2002 is the ninth-most in tournament history.

Sylvia's sister Beatrice, who runs her own business and coaches high school basketball in Arizona, was a 6-2 forward whose eight points and seven rebounds helped Iowa to the women's championship in 2001.

Sylvia, one of seven children, declared she didn't come to the Shootout wanting or needing to match Peter's or Beatrice's successes.

"It's just kinda a tradition," she said. "I wouldn't say it's so much as a sibling rivalry. I talk to my brother on Skype all the time and I talk to Beatrice a lot," she said.

Even so, she was thrilled on a personal level when Miami won last season's ACC title.

"My sister got her Big Ten ring. I got my ring too," she said, waving her hand to flash the reward that came with the ACC crown.

Besides dueling jewels, the family resemblance is undeniable. Sylvia has the same face as Peter -- at times during Miami games this week, she looked like Peter in cornrows.

Bullock started in 21 of 35 games as a sophomore and in all 33 games last season. Like the Bullocks before her, she is a force in the post. Her particular prowess is blocking shots -- she had 76 in her first three seasons, including 35 as a sophomore and 29 as a junior. She has 10 blocks and 21 rebounds in five games this season, but Meier said Bullock's true value doesn't show up on a stat sheet.

"She's so vocal, she's so athletic, and she's a great leader," Meier said. "You can't be on the court and be lazy with her on the court."

Meier said she and an assistant coach made a one-day trip to Anchorage to recruit Bullock -- during the quick trip she ate sushi, not penguin, with Bullock's dad -- and said that while she wasn't eager to take her team on such a long trip, the Hurricanes did it anyway. Because of Bullock.

"We cancelled our own Thanksgiving tournament to come here," Meier said.


Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or 257-4335. Photographer Erik Hill contributed to this story.

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