UAA's basketball teams and the referees who officiate their games are adjusting to a new emphasis on an old rule this week at the Carrs-Safeway Great Alaska Shootout.
Defenders can no longer get away with hand checking.
The hand-checking rule has been in place 14 years, said Shootout supervisor of officials Stu Gorski, but has never been enforced.
It requires referees to watch for three things, all of which pertain to defender's relation to an offensive player in the act of dribbling. There is the arm bar, when a defender uses a forearm to check a dribbler, a two-handed check and a one-handed check. The first two are easy to call, because if a forearm or both hands touch a dribbler, it's a foul.
"The challenge becomes the rule that deals with the single hand," Gorski said. "We allow a single touch."
A defender is allowed to touch a dribbler briefly, as a way to measure their position in relation to the dribbler. If the hand stays continuously on the dribbler, or the defender rapidly continues to check with one hand, it's a foul.
UAA women's coach Ryan McCarthy said the new emphasis can be brutal, because even if a defender positions her arms in front of her own body while sliding in front of an offensive player, a foul can be called if the offensive player makes contact with the defender's forearm.
McCarthy coaches players to defend with their hands in the air, above their shoulders and away from the offensive player.
"I think it's ultimately going to be a positive thing for the game," McCarthy said. "It's just an adjustment period that everybody has to get used to. I think it's been pretty consistent and I've been pretty pleased with the way everything has been called."
For quick, slashing players, like UAA men's point guard Brian McGill, the rule is easy to embrace. McGill is so fast and elusive, he is tough to guard under any set of rules. With no hand checking, he finds plenty of room to roam.
"I like it," he said. "It does make it harder to defend, but for me, personally, it's an advantage. It does make it easier to score."
McGill always drives the lane with the intention of finishing, as opposed to seeking fouls. He said the strategy resulted in a lot of fouls in earlier games this season but not as many at the Shootout.
Gorski, who is also coordinator of officials for the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, is happy with what he has seen this week and somewhat amazed to see how quickly the players have adjusted.
"We are actually seeing fewer and fewer calls," Gorski said. "There were people who were concerned there would be a jillion fouls and the game was gonna last forever. It's made it a much cleaner basketball game and a less physical game."
Seen it all
Anchorage's Ben Grenn hasn't missed a Carrs-Safeway Great Alaska Shootout since the inaugural tournament in 1978.
That's 35 years of memories for the 67-year-old retired state worker, and some of his fondest include seeing great players like Danny Manning in person.
Manning came to the Shootout as a player with Kansas in 1984, went on to be the first overall pick in the 1988 NBA draft and had a long professional career before going into coaching. This week, Manning is back at the Shootout as Tulsa's coach.
Grenn is thrilled to see the 6-foot-10 Manning pacing the sideline, but said he enjoys seeing some of his local friends even more.
"Sometimes, you only get to see people once a year and this is the one place you get to see those people," he said. "You don't see 'em again, running around Anchorage. I don't know where they hide, or where they go."
Grenn, who moved to Alaska in 1967 when he was in the Air Force, is a UAA graduate and spent a couple of seasons working for the school as an assistant sports information director. He's a sports nut who listens to an iPod adorned with Seattle Seahawks colors, considers the UAA folks family and always looks forward to watching basketball.
Among his favorite UAA players over the years are Hansi Gnad from the mid 1980s and Jason Kaiser, who led UAA past a Wake Forest team led by Tim Duncan in a first-round Shootout game in 1993.
He remembers the struggles he endured just to get a seat back when the Shootout was the hottest ticket in town. He remembers standing out in the cold and snow in a line of people waiting to buy tickets at Sullivan Arena.
"In those days, you couldn't buy a ticket to get in," he said. "It was the only thing going in town. I enjoy today as well as I did 35 years ago."
Working their connections
You can say this about Harvard coach Tommy Amaker and Pepperdine coach Marty Wilson -- both are savvy enough to know their audience.
Both tried a little name-dropping to persuade Anchorage fans to root for their teams when UAA isn't playing.
Amaker, the former Duke star who worked as an assistant coach at his alma mater back in the 1990s. As a result, he crossed paths with one of Alaska's all-time greats -- Trajan Langdon, who starred at East High and Duke.
"If you're wondering who to cheer for," Amaker said earlier this week, "we have an association with Trajan."
Wilson stressed quantity when making his pitch for Pepperdine.
"Tommy, I'm gonna have to argue with you, because as an assistant coach I recruited two Alaskans -- Chris Devine and Andre Laws."
In both instances, Wilson got his man -- Laws, an East grad, played college basketball for the University of San Diego and Devine, a Chugiak grad, played for Santa Barbara. Wilson worked an assistant coach at each school before becoming Pepperdine's head coach in 2011.
Know your ungulates
CBS Sports Network announcer is bestowing the Mighty Moose hat to the standout player in each game aired by the cable network. With luck, the player agrees to wear the hat during a postgame interview.
The award is a brown cap with antlers, goofy eyes and a pom-pom nose at the end of the bill. Except the antlers don't look at all like a moose rack. The unofficial consensus it it's more like a deer than anything.
No need to quibble though. Moose, deer, caribou, whatever -- it's fun to see guys who are dying to ooze cool wear silly hats on TV.