Anchorage — Maybe it's because they are featured speakers at so many tournament banquets, booster luncheons and awards dinners, but whatever the reason, there aren't many degrees of separation between men's college basketball coaches and stand-up comedians.
The annual Shootout coaches luncheon serves rim shots along with roast beef, and over the years it has produced some genuine (and intentional) laughs. Like the time at the 1995 luncheon when Jim Calhoun responded to a Billy Tubbs remark about how undermatched his TCU team was heading into a game with Calhoun's UConn juggernaut.
"If bulls--t was tar," Calhoun said, "Billy Tubbs would be the Seward Highway."
Or the 2004 Shootout, when Don Monson was here with Minnesota. "It's really great for our Minnesota kids to see snow and cold weather," he deadpanned.
But it wasn't a coach who got the biggest laughs at Wednesday's luncheon. It was mayor Dan Sullivan, who may have been a bench player back when he suited up for UAA way back when but was a blue-chipper at the podium.
"I don't know where (UAA) finds these teams," he said. "These aren't colleges.
"Belmont? That's a horse race. I expect to hear them announce, 'Starting at center, Secretariat.'
"Northeastern? That's not a school, that's a direction. Their (mascot) is the Fighting Compass.
"Charlotte? I knew a girl named Charlotte."
It's not a phenomenon unique to this year's Shootout, he said. Look at last year's Shootout champion, Murray State.
"Who is Murray? How did he become a state?" Sullivan said.
With his schtick almost completed, the mayor urged all of the visitors to return in the summer to see what Alaska is like then.
"We have a special Native American word for summer," he said. "It's called June."
Lord of the rings
Shootout week shines a light on basketball at UAA, but the school uses the opportunity to turn the spotlight on other sports too.
The biggest ovation at Wednesday's luncheon came for the UAA men's cross-country team, which just captured third place at the NCAA Division II championships, and on its top runner, national champion Micah Chelimo.
Chelimo is a two-time NCAA champion, with his first title coming last spring when he won the 5,000 meters at the Division II track and field championships. Chelimo was presented with his championship ring for the 5,000 meters victory at the luncheon.
The ring arrived in Monday's mail, UAA athletic director Steve Cobb said, "which means Micah is winning national championships quicker than we can give him his rings."
Honoring hard work
Dale Allen hasn't missed a Shootout since the tournament started in 1978, but this is the first time in 30 years that he's watched games as a fan.
Allen, 58, spent three decades serving as the volunteer coordinator for entertainment.
That might not sound like a tough gig. But it's a 14-hour a day job every day during tournament week, and it involves everything from sound checks of the audio system to making sure national anthem singers are ready to take the court before a game to making sure baton twirlers are ready to leave the court after halftime to being sure sponsors are getting their logos on the giant SullyVision screen.
"He's one of those guys who says he'll be there at 3 and he shows up at 2:30," said UAA associate athletic director Tim McDiffett.
Allen, who works for the Odom Corp., said he called it quits because of growing demands of his job -- "and I want to be a fan again," he said.
He said he was compelled to get involved with the Shootout because he grew up near the New Mexico State campus and liked what it was like to feel connected to a university.
Allen was presented with a service award Wednesday at the coaches luncheon -- an event he had never attended until McDiffett invited him this year.
"Normally I'm (at Sullivan Arena) setting up for games," he said.
He choked up a little when accepting the award, which he had no idea was coming.
"I saw the standing ovation, and it caught me off-guard, honestly," he said.
Bell-Holter back home
Sullivan Arena will be a Seawolf-free zone Thursday -- the women's tournament is done and the UAA men have the day off -- but fans will nonetheless have an Alaskan to cheer.
Damen Bell-Holter is the starting center for Oral Roberts, a 6-foot-9, 245-pound senior who grew up in Hydaburg and played high school hoops for Ketchikan.
He is averaging 7.7 points and 7.7 rebounds a game for the Golden Eagles, who are 4-1 heading into a first-round game against Loyola Marymount.
"Everytime I think about that first game and them announcing me from Hydaburg, Alaska, I just know it will be great," Bell-Holter said. "I have so many friends and family who are coming up and I have a lot of friends and family in Anchorage who will be there.
"Even people I don't know have been hitting me up on Facebook and Twitter and telling me that they have heard I'm coming back to Alaska. I am really excited to get back and see all those people."
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.