The elite basketball players who have come out of Alaska in the past three decades, such as Trajan Langdon, Carlos Boozer and Alissa Pili, haven’t had any trouble getting noticed by college coaches and recruiters.
However, the same can’t be said for other aspiring collegiate athletes.
For more than a decade, Bartlett head coach Steve Drussell, retired educator and coach Jim Young and other advocates have tried to shine a spotlight on some of the talented young basketball players in the Last Frontier through a college showcase.
Drussell began as a one-man band, but over the years has been able to get other coaches from around the state to join the cause.
“I started this from scratch,” Drussell said. “When I first started, I emailed every single coach and basically just asked them for the time. I took care of all their expenses, airline, hotel, food, everything.”
He did that out of pocket for three or four years, and now high school coaches from the Alaska Association of Basketball Coaches have joined to help get more college coaches to the state. Drussell said their work has paid off.
“We get a lot of kids picked up out of this,” he said. “I think it’s one of the most successful showcases that we have up here to get kids to college. Every year there’s always a few kids that get picked up. That’s what keeps us going and that’s why I continue to do it.”
He joined forces with Alaska Exposure, and this past Saturday, they hosted their 15th annual College Showcase at three different schools ahead of the AABC’s annual Senior All-Star games.
“We bring up college coaches from Washington and Oregon to look at our Alaskan guys and give them an opportunity to showcase their talents, hopefully get picked up, and play for their respective programs,” Drussell said.
Young started the initial showcase in 2007 as a girls-only event because he wasn’t able to get any boys college coaches to make the trip. That changed after he teamed up with Drussell a few years later.
The event is already a lot to organize for Drussell and Alaska Exposure, which is a group headed by Young that formed to assist “high school athletes moving on to the next level.” But a volcano eruption in Russia made putting it together even harder than most years with flight delays and cancellations.
They were slated to have more than 20 coaches — including some from Arizona — make the voyage between the three showcases, but cancellations prevented an even larger turnout.
“I’m really blessed and fortunate to have these guys come up here and give our Alaskan athletes an opportunity,” Drussell said.
The schools that were represented at the boys showcase at West High School included Blue Mountain College, Peninsula College, Everett Community College, Northwest Indian College and Southwest Oregon Community College.
Donald Rollman is the head coach for the men’s basketball team at Peninsula College in Port Angeles, Washington, and has been coming up for the showcase for the past four years.
What draws him back each year is the environment that the Alaska coaches create to help get eyes on the untapped talent in the 49th state.
“They bring us in here and we’re able to be intimate in terms of talking with kids and being able to communicate with them on a personal basis, which is a little bit different than most evaluation periods,” Rollman said.
He has recruited one or two players from Alaska every year since he’s been at the helm of the program for the past five years.
“We won a region championship this year and we had one Alaska kid,” he said. “Last year we made a run in the playoffs and had two Alaskans, and my first year we had Erik Kelly (from Juneau-Douglas) who was an Alaska 4A Player of the Year.”
North Pole’s Jase McCullough of Monroe Catholic was the lone Alaskan on this past year’s team, and the 5-foot-11 sophomore point guard was part of the Pirates’ run to a regional title.
“I also coached Jase’s brother Jalon, who is now an assistant at UAA,” Rollman said. “Jalon was the first guy for me as a coach in my introduction to Alaska and we’ve kept it rolling since then.”
Rollman was particularly impressed with many of the younger participants at the showcase.
“Usually the best guys at this have been seniors in the past, but there’s five or six guys that are sophomores and juniors this year that I’ll be looking forward to keeping an eye on the next couple of years,” he said.
Rollman isn’t the only representative from his institution who frequently pulls from Alaska’s pool of talent. Alison Crumb is the head coach for the Peninsula College women’s basketball team and made her annual appearance at the girls showcase that was held at Bartlett on Sunday.
She has even more Alaskans on her roster than Rollman, with seven. They helped lead the program to an NJCAA Final Four appearance this past season. The list includes Anchorage’s Eden Hopson, Sunny Pedebone and Lupe’lani Vaaia; Barrow’s Jenilee Donovan; Scammon Bay’s Adam Kaganak; Soldotna’s Ituau Tuisaula; and Eagle River’s Chasity Selden.
Each coach in attendance was given a spreadsheet with every participant’s contact information so that they can keep in touch with any prospective recruits. A girls showcase was also held at Dimond on Saturday as dozens of Alaska athletes received tutelage and ran drills under the watchful eyes of college coaches over the weekend.
Not every senior took advantage of being able to participate in both the all-star game and the showcase, but the few who did were able to make a good impression.
Drussell believes that the showcase provides a more competitive environment, allows the players to run through drills and gives coaches a chance to coach them through it as well as observe how they play in live scrimmages.
“If you’re just banking on trying to get seen and recruited out of an all-star game, I think your chances get kind of limited due to how the format is and how hard people are really playing defense,” Drussell said. “At least here you’re working with these coaches and letting them know that you’re serious about college basketball. That’s how they interpret it.”
Three seniors who were among the few to take full advantage of the day and participated in both events were Houston’s Hayden Howard and West Anchorage’s Julius Adlawan.
“Julius gave himself more of an opportunity to be seen and more of an opportunity to work hands-on with college coaches,” Drussell said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t have offers now, he probably added a couple more schools to his list.”
He’s a player who Rollman has been watching for a couple of years and was impressed by over the weekend.
“He does a good job, he competes and gives effort,” Rollman said.
Adlawan said he’s motivated to play at the next level and viewed the showcase as an extra opportunity.
“I really just wanted to show the coaches what I could do,” he said. “I feel like we really showed them that Alaska really has hoopers out here.”