Not a lot of people, but a lot of love for the game

Words by Jaron Williams and Dathan Satchell

A Family Dynamic 

Alaska basketball brings the state into one big family. 

For people who were born and raised in the Lower 48, it’s surprising to learn a state as large as Alaska can have such a tight-knit community where it seems that everyone knows everyone.

It seems like the more places you travel in the state for basketball the more connections you make. Hoopers in Alaska need to embrace love because all of our people want us to be our best and make it as far as we can. 

Being from Alaska, we realize that recognition doesn’t go much past the state borders. But within the state, we boost the talent we have and keep the basketball family tight. No matter what the award or milestone is, Alaska media make it a priority to recognize people and their achievements. 

Jaylin Scott comes from the village of Ninilchik, with a population of just under 1,000. Ninilchik is located on the Kenai Peninsula. Jaylin grew up with hoop dreams to make it out and play for the Seawolves. 

“Everyone goes to the same school, the school is K-12. All there is to do is go to the beach and play basketball,” he said. Ninilchik only has one convenience store for the village, so it’s a real know-it-yourself type of place. 

In 2023, Jaylin and the Ninilchik Wolverines made it to the big dance, playing in the Alaska Basketball State Championships in Anchorage. The next season, he was a redshirt freshman for the Seawolves.

“I love being able to travel in different parts of Alaska and still get so much love from the village,” he said. The Wolverines had over 1,500 people in the stands to help cheer them on to win the 1A championship. “I think it’s a big deal to village hoopers because it shows the work, no matter where you come from, you can reach high levels,” Jaylin explained. 

Nothing feels better than making the people back home proud of you for all of the hard work you put in. 

Work Ethic Pays Off 

Alaska basketball isn’t for the weak. Every hooper coming out of the state understands how much hate and doubt they receive. A lot of people in the Lower 48 overlook Alaska hoops given that the population is small and players tend to have limited ability to travel or receive extra training. Media sources can spend more time on a core group of kids rather than going all over the place. 

Small Communities, Big Attention

Unlike big cities like Anchorage and Fairbanks, the small towns of Alaska love basketball even more. You would think Alaska would be a hockey state because of the cold weather, but if you actually talk to the locals they would beg to differ. It’s different when you only have a few dozen people who live in the same village as you. Living in a small community gives you the opportunity to lock fully in on the important things. All the partying, clubs, and other distractions are at your disposal. Nothing beats the vibes of a small town. 

Kade McCorison has been a part of the small town of Ninilchik his whole life. Kade described the village as, “very beautiful and has a lot of potential to become bigger over the years.” 

We asked Kade, who plays for Ninilchik, what was his experience like being from a smaller town and then coming up to Anchorage to play for March Madness. “Every time we come to Anchorage, we have the best time,” he said. “Being able to make memories and play in front of the biggest crowd we’ve ever seen is always worth it.” 

“It was a good experience for me,” Kyle said. “We had considered moving to a bigger city before I went into high school but ended up staying because we thought the opportunity for development in Haines would be better based on the coaching that was going to be there. My dad was the head coach for me all four years and Mark McNamara, who had recently moved to Haines, helped me a lot with my basketball development. Mark played over 10 years in the NBA and coached in the NBA as well, and that was something that I would not have gotten in the other places I might have ended up.  So as far as basketball development went it was a really good situation for me.”  

But even with good development and coaching you still have to figure out a way to put your name out there so you can be seen by college coaches. It’s hard for high school kids to get exposure if they want to take their game to a higher level. Kyle had this to say about the lack of exposure problem: 

“I think that most college coaches recruiting high school players are not looking at small Alaska schools. Unless there is an extremely high-level player, it is obvious that they have the size and skill to play at the Division I level. Then coaches will follow that player.” 

Basketball Inspires Dreams Across Generations

For many Alaskans, the goal of playing basketball at the collegiate or professional level is connected to a desire to use the sport to provide generational wealth for families and communities. Opportunities come along with the sport that might be out of reach for Alaskan kids, be they urban or rural. As we wrapped up this story, Alissa Pili had been drafted by the Minnesota Lynx, the NBA playoffs had started with Daishen Nix at the Minnesota Timberwolves, and another generation of kids dreamed of providing for their families through the unifying force of basketball. 
Dathan Satchell and Jaron Williams are UAA men’s basketball players.

True North Magazine

True North is a publication of the University of Alaska Anchorage Department of Journalism and Public Communications. It has been published since 1995.