The last time Hasaan Herrington played a game at the Alaska Airlines Center, he was a sophomore at Bettye Davis East High in March 2019 competing in the 4A state championship basketball tournament.
Herrington, a sophomore guard, spent the last two seasons at the University of Texas at Tyler before transferring in May to join the University of Alaska Anchorage men’s basketball team. The Seawolves are set to officially open their 2023-24 season Friday with the first in a two-game exhibition series.
The Seawolves will be taking on the Cal Maritime Keelhaulers with tipoff for the first game Friday scheduled for 11 a.m. because they’re also hosting 2,500 fifth graders from around the Anchorage School District.
“It’s been a minute, and I’m really looking forward to it,” Herrington said. “I know if I was in their shoes at that age and that message came out that I’d be going on that field trip, I’d be ecstatic. Hopefully, we can put on a show for them and give them a moment they’ll remember forever.”
He is one of several local transfers to join the program over the past two years. Another recent transfer looking forward to having a memorable experience in the season opener is Bishop Tosi.
The junior forward played his entire prep basketball career at Bartlett, and Friday will mark his first time playing a game at the Alaska Airlines Center, since the Golden Bears never made the state tournament during his time starring there.
“Hopefully we can inspire them to keep on going with school and make their dreams come true,” Tosi said.
Herrington says the only emotion he’ll feel playing his first game back in his hometown for the Seawolves will be “pure excitement,” and Tosi echoed similar sentiments.
“It should be really cool,” Tosi said. “Even for the alumni game there were a lot of people, and I was kind of surprised. With all the elementary school kids coming, the energy should be pretty high.”
UAA head coach Rusty Osborne says this has been the program’s “first normal year since before COVID.”
“It was a normal recruiting class, kids came up on visits, we’ve got a good senior class and we have got a balanced lineup,” he said. “We’re excited to see where we’re at.”
Osborne said the Seawolves have a number of local products, a good sign to kids in attendance. Herrington’s former East teammate Jaron Williams transferred to UAA last year while the roster also features Anchorage’s Sloan Lentfer and Wasilla’s Luke Devine.
“Our (local) guys have done a good job putting out messages that they’re from here, that they’ve made it here and are in college and will get a degree,” Osborne said.
Returners slated to make a leap
As exciting as the new talent added to the program this offseason is, the Seawolves are just as excited and have even higher expectations for a few returning players who’ll play more prominent roles.
“Our three seniors who are coming back were really good players for us last year: Dathan Satchell, Tyson Gilbert and Sawyer Storms,” Osborne said. “There’s also Jaron (Williams), who came off the bench for us last year, and even though he’s not a senior, Luke Devine is one of our team leaders also.”
One player in particular who he envisions will take a significant step is Satchell, who “dealt with some personal things last year” but still managed to lead the team with 53 3-pointers in his first year with the program.
“The transition to Alaska isn’t the easiest even in the best of times,” Osborne said. “He also just wasn’t in the best physical shape by his own admittance last year. His life has really calmed down, and he’s doing a great job in the classroom now. I know he’s just really a lot more comfortable here, and he’s also come back in a lot better shape than he was last year.”
He also believes that Storms and Gilbert will take “another step” after being regular rotational players last year while newer players like Herrington and Tosi will likely have to go through “transition periods” while they learn their system.
“We’re excited for (every player from) 1-15 who will be active this year,” Osborne said.
Familiarity helps team chemistry
Even though they have many new pieces in place on the team, because several of the Alaskan players grew up competing with or against each other, it didn’t take long for this year’s team to establish a strong bond off the court.
“I’ve known Bishop since the fourth grade, I’ve known Jaron since I was like 10 and always played against Sloan (Lentfer), and Luke (Devine) in high school,” Herrington said. “For all of us to be grown and playing together is super fun and amazing.”
While that familiarity with one another has helped the overall team cohesion off the court — since many of them played on different teams in high school — they’re still adjusting to playing together.
“We have a lot of good chemistry because of that, but still, they’re all from different programs — so learning what we’re all about and what we value and the systems that we run, there’s that learning curve there,” Osborne said.
Herrington says that the overall goal for the team is to win the conference title and contend for a national championship. They believe they have the talent and dedication to make it happen.
“We’re not selling ourselves short,” he said. “We know what we’re capable of and know what work we have to put in. Anything less means we’re not holding ourselves to a high enough standard.”