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UAA's Shootout prepares for Sullivan Arena swan song

Beth Bragg
Erik Hill

It's swan-song time for the Shootout and Sullivan Arena.

With UAA's new Alaska Airlines Center scheduled to open next fall, the Carrs-Safeway Great Alaska Shootout will make its final run at Sullivan Arena this week, UAA's new athletic director said last week.

The move will take the Shootout out of an aging, city-owned arena miles away from UAA and put it in a gleaming new building right on campus. It will put UAA's signature event at UAA for the first time since the tournament began in 1978.

"There'll be a lot of synergies at work in that new building," athletic director Keith Hackett, who said there remains "some formal things we have to do from a contractual standpoint" with Sullivan, but the plan is to put the Shootout in the new arena next year.

"It may give the tournament the spark we need to get it going in the right direction financially," Hackett said.

Over the years, Sullivan Arena has played host to some of basketball's biggest stars, from Len Bias to Ray Allen to Dwayne Wade, and nearly all of its marquee coaches -- Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Bob Knight, Jim Boeheim, Roy Williams and John Calipari, and that's just the start of the short list.

For its 31st and final act at Sullivan (the first five tournaments were held at Buckner Fieldhouse), the Shootout will feature plenty of storylines: New rules that should impact the game for players and fans, a million-dollar promotion you need a cellphone to enter, and a lineup of coaches who could form a decent team themselves.

SMARTPHONES REQUIRED

The $1 million shot, a popular promotion during halftime of the championship game since 1996, is back.

The longtime sponsor, Vito's Auto Sales, dropped the promotion earlier this year but it was picked up by GCI, associate athletic director Tim McDiffett said.

To win the $1 million, someone still needs to sink a shot that travels three-quarters of the length of the court. But the way the shooter is selected will change, McDiffett said.

People will enter by text Friday at the tournament. The semifinalists will be chosen from those texts and the finalist will be selected at random during Friday's night session. The shot itself will happen Saturday night.

Another new promotion will give away two Alaska Airlines MVP gold memberships. Entry to that contest is also by text.

Both promotions require that people are present to win, which could be a way to pump up attendance at a tournament that has lost its fan base over the years. Recent Shootouts have drawn as few as 1,000 people to some afternoon sessions.

"We're trying out some new technology that makes it fun and interactive and easy to use," McDiffett said. "We're hoping it gets people there and engaged."

LOST LUSTER

It is by now an old story:

The Shootout's decline in popularity is a result of the increased number of preseason tournaments, which in turn is a result of relaxed NCAA rules that make an invitation to play in the Shootout far less coveted than it once was.

"Do you know what I learned today?" Hackett asked during an interview last week. "There are 114 preseason tournaments."

UAA used to be one of only a handful, the beneficiary of an NCAA exemption rule aimed to help far-flung athletic programs in Alaska and Hawaii by letting visiting teams play multiple games in those places with only one of them counting against the season limits set by the NCAA. The rule let teams who made the long trip play more games than teams that didn't venture so far from home.

Then the NCAA broadened the exemption rule and everyone got in the tournament business, including ESPN, whose decades of Shootout coverage helped put Alaska, Anchorage and UAA on the map. Big-name teams that used to come to the Shootout now go to places like the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands, Las Vegas or Madison Square Garden.

Subsequently the Shootout morphed from a showcase for marquee team to a launching pad for emerging ones. Butler was a virtual unknown before it won the 2007 Shootout and Murray State won the 2011 Shootout en route to a 31-2 season two years ago.

IVY LEAGUE CRED

This year's biggest name is Harvard, which is steadily building a reputation as a basketball power.

Under the direction of seventh-year coach Tommy Amaker, the Crimson have increasingly made themselves relevant, winning three straight Ivy League crowns and making two straight NCAA tournament appearances. They're 4-1 after a Sunday loss at Colorado.

Amaker was a record-setting guard at Duke, where he worked as an assistant coach before jobs as the head coach at Seton Hall, Michigan and now Harvard.

This will mark his third coaching appearance at the Shootout, so he has seen the banners that hang in Sullivan Arena and boast the names of past champs like Kentucky, Duke and UCLA.

"We recognize the significance of this tournament," Amaker said. "If somehow we put our name in the rafters, to be associated with this great tradition and be one of those teams, that would be amazing.

"We've talked about this as a moment that could be very special."

LACE 'EM UP, COACH

Amaker is one of several Shootout coaches who made a name for themselves as players, a group that also includes Tulsa coach Danny Manning, the former Kansas standout who led the Jayhawks to the 1988 NCAA title; TCU's Trent Johnson, who starred at Boise State; and Green Bay coach Brian Wardle, who ended his career at Marquette in 2001 as the program's sixth-leading career scorer.

"We oughta have a coaches' game," McDiffett said. "I've been telling (UAA coach Rusty Osborne) to be glad it's not coach versus coach.

"We have some great coaches and some good teams."

Among the teams to watch is Indiana State, which recently knocked off nationally ranked Notre Dame in South.

Completing the men's field are Denver, which earned a share of the Western Athletic Conference last season and is now in the Summit League, and Pepperdine, which along with TCU is the only Shootout team coming off a losing season.

The women's field includes high-scoring UC-Riverside, a Nicholls State team that is coming off the best season in school history and a Georgetown team that is still getting to know coach Jim Lewis, a former WNBA coach hired last month after the firing of Keith Brown.

NEW RULES

Shootout fans will get an early look at how the game will look following some significant changes to the rulebook.

A rule many people thought was already in place has been introduced to the women's game -- a 10-second backcourt rule. It means that women, like the men, have 10 second to get the ball past halfcourt or they lose the ball.

So all of you who have been yelling "Ten seconds!" when a women's team struggles to get the ball past midcourt can continue to do so. You will finally be making sense.

The rule is intended to speed the pace of play. The 30-second shot clock remains.

In the men's game, the NCAA is placing an emphasis on hand-checking -- referees are supposed to crack down on it rather than allow it. Simply put, referees are supposed to enforce rules long in place that forbid the common practice of a defender keeping or repeatedly putting a hand on the ballhandler.

Additionally, the NCAA banned arm bars and tweaked the block/charge rule to give the man with the ball more freedom.

Before, a defender could move into the path of a ballhandler up until the moment the ballhandler left the floor to take a shot.

Now, in order to draw an offensive foul, the defender must be in position before the ballhandler begins his upward motion with the ball to either shoot or pass. It's a small difference, but the NCAA thinks it's enough of a difference for refs to decide whether it's a defensive foul or an offensive foul.

Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or 257-4335.

 


By BETH BRAGG
bbragg@adn.com