Turnover is inevitable in college basketball.
Players graduate and new recruits come in. With the new flexibility and mobility granted by the transfer portal, the change has been even more rapid.
The University of Alaska Anchorage men’s basketball program was faced with that unavoidable reality following the 2021-2022 season and had to not only restock but reconstruct its entire roster after losing seven players to a combination of both graduation and transfer, including all five starters.
UAA gets its season started this week with a pair of home games Thursday and Friday against Midway at 7 p.m. at Alaska Airlines Center.
Senior guard AJ Garrity is one of only six returners from last year and the only one that saw regular playing time. He is excited for the prospects of this year’s team with all the new talent that transferred from other schools.
“We’ve got seven new guys, and they all bring something to the table,” Garrity said. “We really have adjusted our offense, and we’re playing a little bit different this year.”
They lost a pair of All-Great Northwest Athletic Conference players in forward Oggie Pantovic and guard Tobin Karlberg. The pair were the Seawolves’ two best players from last year, and two the team was dedicated to replace this offseason. A major factor that went into how this year’s team would be constructed was the recruiting process.
“Part of it is the pool that you can get,” head coach Rusty Osborne said. “We recruited replacements for Oggie. We would like to have another low post player like (6-foot-9) Evan (Hoosier) and we were really close.”
When they didn’t land another post player, they had to pivot and adjust their course of action.
“At that point we had to react so we just started trying to get better and deeper at each position,” Osbourne said. “The difference between us and last year is that we don’t have an Oggie down low, but we’re bigger overall.”
“Our two guard is bigger than Tobin was last year, our threes are bigger, our fours are bigger. In some ways we’re small at that one position but we’re more consistently big across the roster.”
He also thinks that they got quicker and more athletic without losing any of their shooting ability.
“They’ve built this team a little bit differently this year compared to the past where we’ve had an inside post player like Oggie,” Garrity said. “This year’s (team) is just a lot more versatile. We can do everything. We can post up, we can shoot from the outside, we can drive.”
The Seawolves plan to go off of what opposing defenses present to them and react accordingly.
“They can’t take away everything,” Garrity said. “We got too many versatile guys on this team and a lot of guys are ready to step up and do the right things on a game-by-game basis.”
The Seawolves pride themselves on being unselfish and avoiding turnovers — huge points of emphasis for the program.
“Ten out of the last 12 years I think that we have led our league in assists and assists to turnover ratio,” Osborne said. “We want our guys to be unselfish, value the basketball, not turn it over and take efficient shots.”
The core of the program’s philosophy is “take care of the basketball, share the basketball, and take good shots”.
Osborne has faith that this year’s will come together thanks to their wealth of experience even if it wasn’t accrued together.
“We have three guys who at the high Division II level have averaged double figures in their careers,” he said.
Graduate senior Da’Zhon Wyche averaged 12.1 points per game in his final season at the University of Texas at Tyler. Junior guard Tyson Gilbert averaged 11.1 points a game at Colorado State University at Pueblo in 2019-2020 before the pandemic and injuries cost him the next two seasons. Lachlan Viney earned all conference honors and averaged 12.6 points a game in the last season he played at Hawaii Pacific University.
From key cog to stalwart leader
Not only has Garrity’s role on the team as a player changed going from a key rotational piece to a full-time starter, but he has assumed a much larger chunk of responsibility as a team leader as well.
“Leadership is one of my best qualities,” he said. “Our coaches do a great job of recruiting really high character individuals so my job is really easy which is bringing guys together and try to build team chemistry day by day.”
A common plight that most student athletes at the collegiate level share when they decide to stay in or come to Alaska is the inherent isolation from the rest of the Lower 48, especially for those that aren’t from the Last Frontier.
“When you’re out here in Alaska kind of isolated, you stick to what is comfortable and your friends and teammates who you see on a daily basis have really helped us just bond a lot closer as a unit pretty fast,” Garrity said.
On the court, Garrity is grateful for and looking forward to the opportunity of having more playing time in his senior season as a starter for the first time.
“It’s whatever it takes to win for me,” Garrity said. “I’ve always been a role player my entire life and our offense is kind of built off of everyone accepting their role and doing what it takes to win a basketball game.”
Patience pays off with return of local products
Not only was Karlberg one of the team’s best players over the past few seasons, he was a fan favorite that brought quite the large draw and extra juice for home games. In high school, he starred locally for Grace Christian.
In Wyche from West High and Jaron Williams, from East High, the Seawolves now have two of the most productive and popular players to come out of not just the city but the state in the last decade. Both players decided to bring their talents back home via the transfer portal in what was a lengthy recruitment process for Osborne and his staff.
“The reason we have Da’Zhon and Jaron right now is the relationship we built with them over time,” he said. We recruited both of them before. Multiple times in fact.”
Sophomore forwards Luke Devine and Evan Hoosier are also a pair of local products on the 2022-2023 Seawolves roster that they’re happy to have. Devine attended Wasilla High while Hoosier hails from Dimond.