Reality Check: Before they were Seawolves
The year was 1972 -- Americans were still fighting in Vietnam. "The Godfather" was captivating movie audiences and an American would stand on the moon for the last time. And for the first time, the University of Alaska Anchorage would field a men’s basketball team.
On that roster -- a couple of Alaskans you might recognize: Former Mayor Dan Sullivan and radio host Steve Stripling.
"We were both attending the fledgling UAA and a notice went up on the bulletin board that said hey, looking to form a basketball team," said Sullivan.
It was the first team sport organized by the school. if organized is the right word.
"The best part was the recruiting," Stripling said. "The coach comes up and says, 'Are you taking any classes?' I said yea, 'A couple', he says, 'OK you're on he team'".
"Yeah, the standards weren't quite NCAA standards at the time," Sullivan said.
"About a week before the first game there was no mascot and so we had a team meeting and we had to come up with different ideas," Stripling said. "So I suggested the Moose Nuggets."
"Of course Steve got voted down immediately and we became the Sourdoughs," Sullivan said.
The Sourdoughs played their home games at West High, where Sullivan and Stripling played high school ball.
Among the team’s first opponents was AMU, or Alaska Methodist University, which years later would become Alaska Pacific University.
"I remember this one day playing AMU which a had a really mature program," Sullivan said. "Guys like Wes Jessup and others. The first game, they beat us 100-40. And coach says, 'OK next game we're gonna stall the whole game until we get a completely open shot'. And the score was 100-38."
"We didn't have a real center. We were all between 5-7 and 6-2. The good thing is even though we were slow, we made up for it by not being able to jump," Sullivan said.
"Actually we would periodically go to the prison and get a work pass for a big guy," said Stripling.
"We would have guys come off the floor, go to the end of the bench and smoke a cigarette. They'd be going," Stripling said.
"I can't keep up with 'em.' Sullivan said. "'D.S.', Yea, coach, I'm not going back in today. Laugh,"
"In fact, it was during that time. I had discovered if you forfeited, it went down as one to nothing on paper, and so, I brought it up and said 'Guys, you know, the next time somebody says how much did you lose by, you say "one" and you avoid the embarrassment'. And the other guys are going, 'Stripling's got a good idea'",
There aren’t many photos of that first season, but this one was snapped of Stripling during one of those games against AMU.
And then the next morning, in the newspaper, there was a picture, but it was taken before I dumped the ball off before I turned, so I'm looking at this guy's waist, and I look like I'm about to cry, and the caption is, 'Help'", Stripling said.
"The very first game at West, my dad was the Mayor at the time and got to do the jump ball..." Sullivan said. "That was back in the day, when they jumped ball after every basket made. Can you imagine, stopping the game, jumping the ball after every basket."
UAA would end it’s first season with a two and four record.
But within seven years, would be hosting basketball powerhouses like North Carolina State and Louisville -- in the first Great Alaska Shooutout.
"In seven years, a program that probably shouldn't have even existed is hosting the top teams in the nation. That to me is amazing," Sullivan said. "Then you look at this facility we're in today and you realize, 'We've come a long ways baby'. You know I'm pretty proud of being there at the start."
As they host their last Shootout, today’s Seawolves are faster, stronger and considerably taller than that first UAA team, taller perhaps, because they stand on the shoulders of Sourdoughs.
John's opinions are his own and not necessarily those of Denali Media or its employees.
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