High School Sports

East boys dominate Thunder Mountain to win back-to-back 4A basketball state championships

For the past half decade, the most dominant high school boys basketball program in Alaska has been Bettye Davis East High. The Thunderbirds have appeared in the last four championship games at the 4A level and with their overwhelming 60-34 win over Thunder Mountain on Saturday night at the Alaska Airlines Center, claimed their third title over that span.

“For this group, for the work they put in and the team they became, it is truly gratifying to be able to finish (on top),” East head coach Chuck Martin said. “What they’ve done this year is truly remarkable. To go 28-1 and to finish with a state championship, they deserve it.”

After going on a surprising championship run with a young team last year, they capped off an undefeated season against Alaskan competition with a successful title defense.

“I think there was a lot of pressure on us but we tried our best to stay under control and try our best every day,” junior Muhammed Sabally said. “It feels great to go back-to-back. I feel like all our hard work has paid off.”

Senior Akeem Sulaiman has made it to the state finals every year he’s been in high school.

“We knew what we had to do to get here and we did that,” he said.

In his final high school game, Sulaiman led the Thunderbirds in rebounds and furnished a double-double by scoring 16 points. Sabally topped the team in scoring with 23 points and nearly had a double-double himself with nine rebounds.


“Muhammed and Akeem are terrific high school basketball players, and we’ve got a bunch of guys around them that just do their jobs, are tough, and they’re the best team,” Martin said.

Martin acknowledges the Thunderbirds might not be the most talented team in the state in terms of individual players up and down the roster, but believes they are “the best team in the state.”

“I think we play hard every night, the last two nights especially,” Martin said. “I thought we were fabulous defensively and there were times we weren’t great offensively but we were defensively against two very talented offensive teams in Monroe (Catholic) and Thunder Mountain.”

Even though his team was up by double digits at halftime at 24-11, Martin was far from satisfied with how they played and had a “heated” talk with them in the locker room.

“I wasn’t happy with the shots we were settling for in the first half,” he said. “It felt like we could’ve had a bigger lead and (13) points is nothing for (Thunder Mountain to overcome).”

Sulaiman said the team’s mindset heading into the final was “to play together and play hard and keep a cool attitude throughout the whole game.”

“I feel like we just trusted each other more today and as we moved the ball, everything started clicking,” Sabally said.

A question that Martin was frequently asked during this year’s title run is where this team ranks amongst the other juggernauts he has had during his tenure at the helm of the program.

“I think we’ve had really good teams every year at East,” he said. “They’re up there and are without question, the best defensive team I’ve had in terms of their level, technically defensively.”

What made last year’s run so fun for Martin, the team and his staff was that they weren’t expected to be nearly as competitive as they were, let alone win state. The team felt the pressure of renewed expectations all season, but especially the last few weeks against high quality competition at regions and state.

“We’re just not a tremendously dominant team,” he said. “There are a bunch of teams that can beat us. … What this group has accomplished when you look at our statistics and our record, it’s amazing.”

The Thunderbirds don’t plan on changing their approach to preparing for their next title defense and extending their reign over Alaskan competition heading into the offseason.

“It’s the same mindset heading into every offseason,” Sabally said. “Come out here and work hard in practice, love my teammates, love my coaches, push everybody to get better, and see what the outcome is.”

4A Boys All-State Tournament team

Armani Smith, Monroe Catholic; Toby Howard, Service; Thomas Baxter, Thunder Mountain; Muhammed Sabally, Bettye Davis East Anchorage; Des’laone Cook, West Anchorage; Jett McCullough, Monroe Catholic; Samuel Lockhart, Thunder Mountain; Akeem Sulaiman, Bettye Davis East Anchorage; Leyton Nield, West Valley; Michael George, Bettye Davis East Anchorage

4A Boys Basketball Tournament

At Alaska Airlines Center




Service 55, Wasilla 41

Thunder Mountain 53, West Valley 51 (OT)

Bettye Davis East 55, Palmer 36

Monroe Catholic 53, West Anchorage 43



West Valley 57, Wasilla 42

West Anchorage 69, Palmer 62



Thunder Mountain 48, Service 45 (OT)

Bettye Davis East 45, Monroe Catholic 39


4th/6th place

West 41, West Valley 40


Service 49, Monroe Catholic 45


East 60, Thunder Mountain 34

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.