In February, the UAF men's basketball team snapped an eight-season losing streak to Great Northwest Athletic Conference foe UAA. The Nanooks ended another lengthy drought last week when Service senior Reece Robinson signed a national letter of intent to play for their NCAA Division II program.
UAF has struggled in recent years, going 33-97 between 2007 and 2012. Head coach Mick Durham took over three years ago to revitalize the Nanooks' program while also trying to attract talented Alaskans.
Before Robinson, UAF hadn't acquired a boys Class 4A player of the year since Wasilla's Jesse Bean in 2007. He didn't play a single game.
Bean refused to play for UAF after the coach who recruited him, Frank Ostanik, resigned prior to the 2007-08 season. The Nanooks would not release Bean, which sent him to community college in Washington state before playing in the NAIA for Dakota State.
UAF never recovered from its rocky start to that season, finishing 5-22, the first of five consecutive losing seasons. The program has recently turned around under Durham, now entering his fourth year. Durham has led the Nanooks to two straight winning seasons, most recently finishing 18-10.
UAF not only finished better than the 17-13 Seawolves, it finally defeated its in-state rival after 16 straight losses. Securing Robinson two months later was an added bonus.
"That's a pretty good year in my book," Durham said.
Recruiting Alaskans has been difficult for UAF during its recent five-year losing streak, he said.
"We've had to work hard to try and get respect back in the state," Durham said.
Continued success also benefits UAF in its quest to be a legitimate GNAC contender, Durham said, it provides Alaskans a second in-state option to play collegiate basketball. That's just what Robinson, who had interest from UAA, was looking for.
Born and raised in Anchorage, Robinson said he wanted to get away but still be within driving distance of home. A friendly coaching staff and having family and friends in Fairbanks cemented his decision.
"It will be like home," he said.
Robinson, this year's Cook Inlet Conference MVP, averaged 17 points and eight rebounds per game during the regular season and was a key player during the Cougars run to a Class 4A state title.
Class 3A player of the year Scooter Bynum, largely considered the best player in the state, is playing junior college baseball in Arizona after he graduates from Monroe.
Durham described his newest recruit as a intelligent.
"He very seldom takes a bad shot," Durham said. "If somebody's open, he passes it. That type of feel for the game is what caught my eye."
Robinson said he's looking forward to the challenge that awaits him his freshman year.
"It's going to be fun to play at a higher level, bigger and better players," he said.
Signing a player like Robinson is evidence that UAF is moving in the right direction, Durham said.
"We've got some good basketball going on here in Fairbanks," he said.
Reach Mike Nesper at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335. Where basketball took Alaska's best
Reece Robinson, Alaska's Class 4A Player of the Year, is headed to Fairbanks to play basketball for UAF next season. Scooter Bynum, the Class 3A Player of the Year, is pursuing baseball instead of basketball and will attend Arizona Western.
Here's a look at past Players of the Year in boys basketball and where they went to college. The list is based on Daily News archives and online searches:
Year Name School College
2014 Reece Robinson Service UAF
2013 Adam Klie Service UC-San Diego
2012 Connor Devine Wasilla South Dakota State
2011 Devon Bookert West Florida State
2010 Travis Thompson Dimond UAA
2009 Colton Lauwers Dimond Adams State/UAA
2008 Kevin Winford Bartlett Eastern Washington
2007 Jesse Bean Wasilla Peninsula Coll./Dakota St.
2006 Ramon Harris West Kentucky
2005 Mario Chalmers Bartlett Kansas
2004 Mario Chalmers Bartlett Kansas
2003 Mario Chalmers Bartlett Kansas
2002 Andrew Smith Bartlett UAF
2001 Nick Billings Kodiak Binghamton
2000 Brandon Edwards East Not available
1999 Carlos Boozer Juneau Duke
1998 Carlos Boozer Juneau Duke
1997 Eli Wilson Colony UAA
1996 Cameron Rigby Bartlett Bradley/San Diego
1995 Mao Tosi East Butler CC/Idaho
1994 Trajan Langdon East Duke
1993 Trajan Langdon East Duke
1992 Trajan Langdon East Duke
1991 Jeff Lentfer Service Weber State
1990 Chris Toomer West Liberty
1989 Phil Engebretsen Homer Occidental College
1988 Pierre Newsome West Not available
1987 Mike Cronk Northway UAF
1986 Brian Petro Bartlett SW Texas State/Quinnipiac
1985 Mike Childs East UAA
1984 Tony Reed East Montana
1983 Tony Reed East Montana
1982 Ethan Billings Juneau Not available
1981 Larry McBride East Montana
Year Name School College
2014 Scooter Bynum Monroe Arizona Western (baseball)
2013 Gus Simmers ACS Palm Beach State
2012 Gus Simmers ACS Palm Beach State
2011 Christian Leckband Nome UAA
2010 Jeremy Head Nome Tex. A&M Int'l/W. Wyo. CC
2009 Leif Karlberg Grace Master's College
2008 Kyle Fossman Haines UAA
2007 Cameron Severson Petersburg Western Washington
2006 Lonnie Ridgeway Heritage UAA
2005 Jared Reando Heritage Multnoma University
2004 Carl Arts Valdez UAA
2003 Raymond Douville Craig Wenatchee Valley
By MIKE NESPER