Wilson sets up premier pickup games to unite state’s elite players

July 7, 2020
Daekwon Houston and Mier Panoam

Daekwon Houston and Mier Panoam

Eager to get the state’s best basketball players together in the same gym at the same time, Isa Wilson of Anchorage went to work.

He rented a gym, set up a schedule and reached out to players.

Wilson, 24, invited a mix of professionals, college stars and all-state high school kids.

The turnout was a slam dunk.

“All it took to get Alaska buzzing about basketball outside the season was to do a free run and invite the best players,” Wilson told me.

“But, really, it was about just being able to have a cool run, creating something where you’re feeling like you’re getting better every time you get on the court.”

Premier pickup games are nothing new. They have been popping off for decades in Anchorage, with the most popular spots being the Fairview and Spenard rec centers, and The Alaska Club.

Over the years, though, facilities reduced time given to basketball in favor of other user groups willing to pay more money to rent the gym.

As a result, elite players had no consistent time to meet, no summer league to compete.

Isa Wilson

Enter Wilson, who pays for open gym time three nights a week at the Arctic Rec Center to provide a place for elite players to have a regular run.

“It’s a welcome change in comparison,” said Anchorage’s Damon Sherman-Newsome, a former 1,000-point scorer at Colgate University. “It used to be, like, we’d know that day. ‘Hey man, we about to go to the gym.’ It wouldn’t be like every Monday, Wednesday, Friday.”

It is now.

Premier players have packed the gym. The roster is a who’s who of Alaska all-stars from the past, present and future.

“These are people the kids look up to,” Wilson said.

You got current pros in the house like Travante Williams (Portugal), Jalil Abdul-Bassit (Australia, NBA G League) and Devon Bookert (NBA G League).

And former pros like DaJonee Hale (Germany) and Damon Sherman-Newsome (Spain).

“When you got pros, more people will come out,” Wilson said.

A bunch of current college stars are showing up as well, including Alissa Pili, Tobin Karlberg, Jeremiah Bailey, Tennae Voliva, Da’Zhon Wyche, Jahnna Hajdukovich, Kamaka Hepa and Jaron Williams.

Rising stars Isaiah Moses, Mier Panoam, Colton Spencer, Benito Carter and Chasity Horn are there to make a name for themselves.

You even got blasts from the past like Desmond Johnson, Laura Ingham, Levi Auble and Antonio Wyche on the court.

“You see the names coming out,” Wilson said. “That’s gonna make any real hooper want to come and play because you’re playing against better competition and you’re playing against people that are better than you or at the same level.”

The action is competitive but not cutthroat. There is a shot clock. The first game is to 12, then it goes to 9 after that. Winner’s stay on the court.

This is an elite game, so players must be invited to lace ‘em up.

“No knock to anybody else, but we had to make it invite only,” Wilson said. “It doesn’t make sense for everybody coming out and trying to play. They can’t be playing against just anybody.”

Jhayde Zamora

Dondres McMorris

Wilson has partnered with former West High teammates Jhayde Zamora and Dondres McMorris of Get Better Daily. GBD showcases the players by posting videos on social media labeled #GBDLateNightRuns.

Big 3: Wilson (15), Zamora (4) and McMorris (10) as West seniors in 2014.

“You can’t come up there and get your ass busted because you’re going to hear about it,” Wilson said with a laugh.

The game can humble anyone.

It can also provide teachable moments. One of the aspects that’s different about these pickups games compared to others in the past is the influx of younger players. That’s by design.

Wilson comes from a family with a legacy of investing in the local hoops community. His uncle Louis Wilson started the SWEAT Camp in the 1990s and his grandma Dolores Waldron ran the Alaska Basketball Development Program for 20 years.

Zamora and McMorris are involved with young players today through GBD training and player development.

Having a few younger players mixed in with older players is something Sherman-Newsome wished had happened when he was at Bartlett.

“When I was in high school there wasn’t many opportunities for me to play with the best college guys,” said Sherman-Newsome, now 27. “I think the main thing for me that’s cool is they get to see what it looks like in person.”