From Lynx to Lynx: Alissa Pili’s basketball journey comes full circle in a place that ‘was meant to be’

The former Dimond High star athlete, who’ll now play for the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx, said that being able to represent her people at the highest level of the sport is an honor and a blessing.

To go from being a Dimond Lynx at the high school level to a Minnesota Lynx in the WNBA makes Anchorage’s Alissa Pili feel like her journey has come full circle as she prepares to embark on the next chapter.

“It’s crazy and something I didn’t realize at first, but I thought about it, my parents mentioned it, and it’s pretty cool to have the same mascot I went to high school with now in the league,” she said.

She was taken No. 8 overall in the 2024 WNBA Draft last month following a dominant college career in the Pac-12 at the University of Utah. But her father Billy feels like it was more than a coincidence. He believes “it was meant to be.”

“She started as a Lynx and hopefully she ends it as a Lynx, and she has a long career and stays there instead of moving from team to team,” he said.

[Alaska’s Alissa Pili lands with the Minnesota Lynx as the No. 8 pick in the 2024 WNBA draft]

Among the veterans on her team is fellow legendary Alaska hoopster Ruthy Hebard of Fairbanks, who Pili says “it’ll be super cool” to play with. They’re two of just six Alaskans to ever make it to the league, and they are the only two active players from the 49th state.

“We played for the same AAU team,” Pili said. “She was on the older team, but just coming from the same place, I feel like we know how hard it is to kinda make a way for yourself out of there.”

To be able to pave the way for future generations of young female basketball players and athletes in general is a responsibility Pili says both she and Hebard take very seriously and are grateful to have.


“For them to see us playing on the same team, that’d be a really cool thing,” she said.

She expects there to be plenty of nerves and challenges early in her career, though said she’s focused on improvement.

“Right now, I’m just trying to come in every day with a good attitude and wanting to get better every day and compete,” Pili said.

A role model for all Alaskans and multiple cultures

With exposure often limited in Alaska, Pili feels a sense of responsibility to continue to “try to pave the path and kick down doors” for kids in the state by giving them a shining example of how their goals can be achieved.

“I think it’s also important for us to share our stories and share our knowledge of how we got here and what it takes to really just be pro and be at the highest level,” she said. “I hope we’re doing a good job and a lot of people look at us as inspiration.”

She said that growing up, she never saw any Alaska Native professional athletes in any sport, and the opportunity to break that specific barrier is a great honor she doesn’t take lightly.

“To be able to do that is an honor for my people and everybody in Alaska,” said Pili, who is Iñupiaq and Samoan. “Women’s basketball has grown a lot, and this is a specific sport where there aren’t really any Alaska Natives or even Polynesians making it to the pro level. It’s a blessing to be here and be part of that 1% that people don’t see make it.”

Billy Pili believes his daughter’s continued influence as a role model for young girls of Samoan and Alaska Native heritage, as well as from Alaska as a whole, at the highest level of the sport is “pretty big.”

His goal for his kids in sports was to not necessarily be better than anybody, but rather be the best versions of themselves that they could become.

“Do the best you can, and a lot will come with it,” Billy shared.

An emotional draft day experience

Even though she knew she was going to be selected, hearing her name called “was just a different feeling” entirely for Pili.

“I just can’t describe it, but you just have this feeling in your gut that doesn’t go away until your name is called, and then it’s kinda like, ‘Damn I can breathe now,’” she said.


Shortly after her name was called, she was overcome with joy and tears began to flow before she even got to the stage — but to see the look on her parents’ faces overwhelmed her completely.

“That feeling knowing that I made it and I did it was the biggest part for me, and then I was just nervous to walk in those heels up that stage,” Pili said. “I do not wear heels.”

Last year, the Pili family gathered to watch the 2023 NFL Draft hoping to hear the name of the oldest of their eight children, Brandon, called sometime throughout the annual event. He wound up undrafted but signed with the Miami Dolphins as a free agent and earned his way onto the final 53-man roster.

“We knew his situation beforehand, and with Alissa it was different,” Billy Pili said. “We just kid around and say we had one go in undrafted and the next one is at least top 10 in the first round, so our next one is going to be first round and first pick.”

Watching his daughter stroll down the bright orange carpet at the WNBA Draft in her custom-made gown with tribal patterns, and then hearing her name actually called as an official draftee, was overwhelming for him.

“I was emotional the whole time there, and that’s just how I am,” he said. “I was just so proud.”


Tears began rolling down his face as the two hugged before she went onstage.

“I get choked up a lot,” he said. “I got a really soft heart, especially when I see my kids. We’ve been through so much, and for any kid to actually make their dreams come true is just crazy — and as a parent, to see your kid do it is just wild.”

Aside from her parents, Pili had plenty of other family support in New York City on draft day, including most of her siblings and her boyfriend.

“My dad acts tough, but he’s a very emotional guy,” she said. “It was just so amazing to have the people that helped you get to that spot be there, and that’s something that was super important to me.”

When she looked at her parents after her name was called, she could see the immense pride beaming on their faces.

“I could just see how proud they were in their faces and it made me cry,” she said. “It makes me emotional because that’s really my goal in life, is just to make them proud. They’ve given so much up for me.”


Her father said he would’ve been happy if a degree was the only thing his daughter had to show following her illustrious college athletic career, but to see her reach the pinnacle of the sport was truly satisfying as a parent.

“I told my kids as you get your degree, I’m happy and I did my job, but if you guys make it to the league, that’s just extra,” Billy Pili said. “It’s just a blessing.”

Pili makes her debut with the Lynx in Seattle on May 14 as Minnesota plays the Storm at 6 p.m. AKDT. Pili’s home opener will feature the same matchup on May 17 at Target Center with a 5:30 p.m. AKDT tipoff.

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.