This November, the GCI Great Alaska Shootout has a big anniversary — it turns 40.


The tournament’s look has changed over the years. Now, University of Alaska Anchorage’s athletic director, Keith Hackett, is marketing it that way too.


For decades the tournament featured some of the biggest programs in college basketball. But the days of the most recognizable names, such as Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina, coming to Anchorage are likely over. There are too many holiday tournaments, too much competition and way too much television money out there.


Entering his fourth year at the helm, Hackett is presenting the tournament differently.


“We are bringing some of the top mid-major teams, and you can see how good the mid-major teams are.” Hackett said.


Sure, it would be great to have a national power team here, but he says there’s plenty of quality basketball to be seen without Coach K or John Calipari coming to town.


Last year’s tournament finalists — Iona and Nevada — qualified for the NCAA tournament, as did University of California Davis. Working off the success of 2016, champion Middle Tennessee State shocked number two Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament. They followed it up this year by taking down another Big Ten program, upending number five Minnesota in the first round.


For the 2017 version, three teams will travel from California: Cal Poly, California State University (CSU) Bakersfield and Santa Clara. Sam Houston State, the College of Charleston, Central Michigan and Idaho will also join UAA.


Is there a Cinderella in next year’s field? That of course remains to be seen. But Hackett says you can begin scouting now.


“Everybody says ‘who is CSU-Bakersfield?’ Well they’re the WAC (Western Athletic Conference) champions. They just missed the NCAA Tournament. They lost in their championship game. Now they’re heading to New York City to play at Madison Square Garden against Georgia Tech tomorrow night.”


These teams don’t offer the name recognition of the blue bloods, but that’s not the Shootout’s focus.


“We want to be known as the top mid-major tournament in the country.” he said.


There are plenty of factors in deciding what teams UAA chooses to bring to Alaska.


“We look at the success of the program. We look at who the coach is. You know, Santa Clara is in the tournament next year. They finished fourth in the West Coast Conference. Now, the first three teams in the West Coast Conference — Gonzaga (in the Final Four), St. Mary’s (NCAA Tournament) and BYU (NIT) — are all in the post season.”


The bottom line for Hackett is good basketball is good basketball. That’s what he’s banking on — and banking on the community to embrace it.



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