High School Sports

From underdogs to overwhelming favorites, East boys basketball team eyes second straight 4A state title

The Bettye Davis East Anchorage boys basketball team went on an unexpected run at last year’s 4A state championship tournament in a season where many believed the program would take a step back after losing a historic senior class in 2022.

“Winning last year’s state tournament was a tremendous experience because we weren’t expected to,” East coach Chuck Martin said. “Those are when it’s really fun.”

The Thunderbirds won’t have the luxury or advantage of being able to sneak up on anybody this time around given that they have yet to lose a game to an Alaska opponent and have dominated every in-state opponent they’ve played this season.

East will try to make it three more wins in a row and a second straight title at the 4A state tournament starting Wednesday at Alaska Airlines Center.

Martin admits that this year’s run to state hasn’t been nearly as fun because there aren’t any naysayers doubting them along the way.

“We do feel some pressure because we haven’t lost,” he said. “Last year we didn’t feel any pressure. We were just worried about improving and evaluating. Now we feel like everyone expects us to win. ... There’s a handful of teams that can beat us. We know that, and we need to keep that at the forefront.”

The Thunderbirds were able to fly under the radar last year due in large part to most of their players being young and unknown. But those players are much more established this time around.


“Last year we had a lot of pieces people didn’t know about, but this year we have a lot of the same pieces,” said Muhammed Sabally, a junior and 2023-24 Cook Inlet Conference Player of the Year.

One of the key players on this year’s team that was on last year’s but not available due to injury was senior point guard Michael George, who missed his junior season while recovering from knee surgery.

“He has really been a big key factor to the team as a point (guard) hitting shots and playing defense,” senior Akeem Sulaiman said.

[Bettye Davis East Anchorage boys basketball team rolls Service to claim fifth region title in six years]

Even though they haven’t played West Valley since last year’s state championship game, the Thunderbirds view the Wolfpack as some of their stiffest competition this year again.

“They match up good with us and are pretty tall and athletic too so we’re looking forward to that,” Sabally said.

After handling No. 2 seed Service for the third time this season at the Region IV Tournament, East is confident they can go the distance again this year at state.

“We’ve still gotta be tough and can’t underestimate any opponent,” Sulaiman said. “We prepare for every game as if it were our last.”

Martin also foresees West Valley as a possible strong challenge but maintains the stance that every team is dangerous this time of year.

“The good thing about our group is that we really don’t look past anybody,” he said. “Monroe (Catholic) is going to be a handful from the interior.”

The No. 5 seeded Rams upset the Wolfpack in the Mid-Alaska conference regional championship game earlier this month and are on the Thunderbirds’ side of the bracket.

“The state tournament is going to be wild,” Martin said.

4A Boys Basketball Tournament

At Alaska Airlines Center



No. 2 Service vs. No. 7 Wasilla, 8 a.m. (Main court)

No. 3 West Valley vs. No. 6 Thunder Mountain, 3:15 p.m. (Auxiliary gym)


No. 1 Bettye Davis East vs. No. 8 Palmer, 4:45 p.m. (Main court)

No. 4 West Anchorage vs. No. 5 Monroe Catholic, 6:15 p.m. (Main court)



Loser Service/Wasilla vs. Loser West Valley/Thunder Mountain, 12:30 p.m. (Main court)

Loser Bettye Davis East/Palmer vs. Loser West Anchorage/Monroe Catholic, 12:30 p.m. (Auxiliary gym)


Winner Service/Wasilla vs. Winner West Valley/Thunder Mountain, 6:15 p.m. (Main court)


Winner Bettye Davis East/Palmer vs. Winner West Anchorage/Monroe Catholic, 7:45 p.m. (Main court)



4th/6th place, 10:30 a.m. (Auxiliary gym)

3rd/5th, 10:30 a.m. (Main court)

Championship, 7:30 p.m. (Main court)

Josh Reed

Josh Reed is a sports reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. He's a graduate of West High School and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.