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Seawolf becomes Nanook: UAA men’s basketball assistant joins staff at UAF

  • Author: Beth Bragg
    | Sports
  • Updated: August 3
  • Published August 2

Jesse Brown, a man who spent three seasons at UAA as a basketball player and three years there as a coach, recently packed all of his green and gold T-shirts, jackets, sweatpants, sweatshirts and gym shorts into three big bags and shoved them all into the back of a closet.

He's feeling blue these days. UAF blue and gold.

"I'm sure at some point, some day I'll be able to put a Seawolf shirt back on," he said, "but for now I'm at UAF, and I'm all in."

Brown, an assistant coach for his alma mater the last two seasons, is switching allegiances. He has left Anchorage for the cross-state rival Nanooks in Fairbanks, where he is the associate head coach for new UAF head coach Greg Sparling.

Jesse Brown

The job is a promotion too good to pass up, said Brown, who was born in Anchorage, lived here until the fifth grade and returned years later to play three seasons for the Seawolves beginning in 2001.

He's 37 and so passionate about basketball that in his 12 seasons of coaching, he has spent three of them working for free as a volunteer coach, including the 2016-17 season at UAA. Last year, he moved into a full-time position under head coach Rusty Osborne, where he was the No. 3 man behind Osborne and associate coach Ryan Orton.

"I'm just fortunate," Brown said. "After all the hard work, all the sacrifice, to get a chance to move up and to grow as an individual, I'm just blessed."

Brown said he has known Sparling for years but was surprised to get a call from him.

Sparling was hired by UAF earlier this summer after Central Washington let him go after a successful 24-year career during which he compiled a 386-253 record — the most victories among all current and former Great Northwest Athletic Conference men's coaches (Osborne is 265-152 in 14 seasons).

"It was very unexpected," Brown said. "I just figured one of his (Central Washington) assistants would go with him."

After beginning his career in Anchorage as the Service High freshman coach, Brown spent five seasons at Tacoma Community College and two at Green River Community College in Auburn, Washington. A number of his junior college players went on to play for Sparling at Central Washington, he said.

He volunteered with the UAA women's basketball team during the 2008-09 season when he returned to Anchorage to complete his bachelors degree, and then joined Osborne's staff two years ago.

Brown said he spoke to Osborne after Sparling approached him about the job.

"Rusty was great. He never made me feel bad about the situation," Brown said. "He gave me an amazing opportunity. Not many people are able to coach at the college they played at.

"… Last year I learned a lot and was able to put myself in position to be ready for the next step. In order to grow, I felt this was a necessary step."

Brown said he has already reached out to some former UAF players. The first person to text him Thursday with congratulations was Brad Oleson, UAF's all-time leading scorer.

As much as he is embracing the process of recasting himself as a Nanook, Brown  knows it won't be easy when he has to coach against his former team.

"I have specifically thought about that," Brown said. "I've thought, 'We're gonna be competitive three or four nights a year, but other than that you guys are my brothers. We'll play twice during the regular season and hopefully once or twice in the playoffs, and on those nights, I'm going to want to beat you.' "

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