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Sutton knows basketball, but he's a knucklehead on Alaska bears

Craig Medred

Just in time for this weekend's Great Alaska Shootout: Advice from Lower 48 basketball coaches on how not to deal with Alaska grizzly bears.

Tulsa World sports writer Jimmie Tramel reports that former Oklahoma State University basketball coach Eddie Sutton knows all about 49th state bruins. Oklahoma State last appeared in the Shootout in 2002. However, Eddie Sutton's son Sean is back at the Shootout this year as the Oral Roberts head coach.

"Sutton apparently ran from the bear like the devil was chasing him,'' Tramel writes in a column headlined "Eddie Sutton thankful he wasn't eaten by a bear in Alaska.'' 

Sutton should be thankful, experts on Alaska bears say, because the last thing one wants to do when confronted by a grizzly is run. The advice is to hold your ground, talk to the bear and back gently away. Bears have a nasty reputation for chasing things -- including people -- who run. Which, if Tramel's account is to be believed, is what happened to Sutton.

Sutton, Tramel writes, "had caught five salmon and left them on the bank before spotting the bear and launching into a sprint. 'I never looked back, but (other people on the excursion) told me the bear probably got as close as 15 yards to me,' Sutton said. 'Then he saw the salmon and stopped.'"

This is another no-no in the 49th state. Bears are smart animals that learn fast. If they discover they can easily get salmon by chasing people, they will quickly become habitual people chasers. This is such a problem that on at least one river -- the popular Russian River on the Kenai Peninsula -- it is now against the law for anglers to leave salmon or other bear attractants unattended on the stream bank to avoid pulling a Sutton. According to Tramel, Sutton said he was "thankful the bear decided he would rather have those fish for dinner than me.''

No word on what the next angler or anglers chased by the bear thought.