Dunlap was first Alaskan to play in NCAA Tournament in 1980

March 19, 2021

Mike Dunlap

Before he embarked on a prolific coaching career that took him all the way to the NBA, Mike Dunlap of Fairbanks made Alaska hoops history as a college player.

In 1980, the senior point guard was on the Loyola Marymount University team that earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Dunlap was about to experience March Madness for the first time, and bring the state of Alaska with him.

Best of all, it was going to be on TV.

“That was the first year ESPN televised the tournament, so my parents in Fairbanks, Alaska, actually got to see me on TV,” he said. “That was something.”

Loyola Marymount lost 99-71 to fifth-seeded Arizona State and its five future NBA draft picks. Dunlap came off the bench to play five minutes and collect two rebounds, one assist and one steal.

He didn’t attempt a shot, but he did catapult Alaska to new heights as the first player from the Last Frontier to appear in a NCAA Tournament game.

“I was breaking the sound barrier for an Alaskan,” said Dunlap, a 1976 Lathrop High grad.

Other Alaskans had been close – Wally Leask in 1943 and Gary Wilken in 1966. But Dunlap will go down as the answer to the trivia question.

It took 12 years before another Alaskan joined the club. In all, 18 men from the state have participated in the Big Dance.

The list will likely grow this year as two Alaskans play for teams in the field – Texas Longhorns forward Kamaka Hepa of Utqiagvik and Hartford Hawks guard Matt Hobbs of Anchorage.

These days, seeing Alaskans play in the NCAA Tournament is pretty common. There is usually at least one in the mix every year.

Forty years ago, however, it had never happened. Not before Dunlap did it.

Once the 5-foot-10 guard took the court for the game, the gravity of the moment nearly took his breath away.

“You’re almost numb because you know how special that moment is,” said Dunlap, now 63.

Then he saw the awesome Arizona State team up close; reality sunk in. The Sun Devils were loaded with three first-round NBA draft picks in Alton Lister, Byron Scott and Fat Lever, a second-rounder in Sam Williams, and a third-rounder in Kurt Nimphius.

“When we were warming up, I looked down there and I went, ‘Oh, man.’” Dunlap said with a laugh.

“We hung in there and didn’t embarrass ourselves, but we were playing that team. They were loaded. And they had a bench, too.”

He said the game flew by in the blink of an eye.

“You’re just floating going into the game and then when the game happens, you’re going, ‘What happened?’” he said. “Two hours is one second because of the pressure, and you know you’re one-and-done, so what you’re trying to do is slow time down. Anybody who has ever been in that situation will tell you that it’s a nanosecond, and then it’s over.”

His college career was finished, but he was just getting started with the game of basketball.

Dunlap got into coaching the very next season and 40 years later is a true pioneer for Alaska hoops.

He was the first Alaskan to be an NBA head coach in 2012 with the Charlotte Hornets and twice won national titles in 2000 and 2002 at NCAA D2 Metro State. He also led a team to the Australian League Grand Finale in 1994.

In 24 seasons as a head coach at the pro and college level, Dunlap amassed a 409-213 career record for a .658 winning percentage.

As an assistant, he has worked for the Denver Nuggets and power-5 programs like Iowa, Oregon, Arizona and St. John’s. He coached his alma mater from 2014 to 2020 before returning to the NBA this season as an assistant with the Milwaukee Bucks.

“I’m very proud of it,” Dunlap said of his legacy.

“I’m very proud to be from Alaska.”

Here is a list of Alaskans who have played in the NCAA Tournament:

1980 Mike Dunlap (Lathrop) Loyola Marymount
1992 Bomet Walden (East) Murray State
1994 Chris Toomer (West) Liberty
1994 Donny Judd (East) Maryland
1995 Jeff Lentfer (Service) Weber State
1995 Donny Judd (East) Maryland
1996 Scott Harry (Homer) Montana State
1997 Trajan Langdon (East) Duke
1998 Trajan Langdon (East) Duke
1999 Trajan Langdon (East) Duke
2000 Carlos Boozer (Juneau-Douglas) Duke
2001 Carlos Boozer (Juneau-Douglas) *Duke
2002 Carlos Boozer (Juneau-Douglas) Duke
2005 C.J. Hooker (Palmer) *North Carolina
2006 Mario Chalmers (Bartlett) Kansas
2006 Roderick Wilmont (Sitka) Indiana
2007 Mario Chalmers (Bartlett) Kansas
2007 Roderick Wilmont (Sitka) Indiana
2007 Ramon Harris (West) Kentucky
2007 Ray Schafer (Wasilla) Oregon
2008 **Mario Chalmers (Bartlett) *Kansas
2008 Ramon Harris (West) Kentucky
2010 Ramon Harris (West) Kentucky
2012 Derrick Wilson (East) Marquette
2013 Derrick Wilson (East) Marquette
2014 Jalil Abdul-Bassit (East) Oregon
2015 Jalil Abdul-Bassit (East) Oregon
2016 Connor Devine (Wasilla) South Dakota State
2016 Ryden Hines (Dimond) Iona
2018 Brandon Huffman (West) North Carolina
2019 Brandon Huffman (West) North Carolina
*National Champion
** Most Outstanding Player

Here is a look back at Alaska’s most memorable moments in tournament history:

Wally Leask

Metlakatla’s Wally Leask captained the University of Washington to a 24-5 record, putting him in position to play in the Big Dance. However, a week before the tournament started Leask was called to duty by the U.S. Army Air Corps because of World War II. The Huskies and coach Hec Edmundson missed the “dribbling dervish” from Alaska and lost 59-55 to Texas in the first round.

Gary Wilken

Former Lathrop High star Gary Wilken of Fairbanks did not play but was part of the Oregon State team that won 63-60 over Houston and Elvin Hayes in the first round. The Beavers lost 70-64 to Utah in the West Regional final. The 1966 tournament featured big names like Pat Riley of Kentucky, Dave Bing of Syracuse and Bobby Joe Hill of UTEP.

Fairbanks native Mike Dunlap was the first Alaskan to play in the Big Dance with 12th seed Loyola Marymount, which lost 99-71 in the first round to a loaded Arizona State team that featured Fat Lever, Alton Lister and Byron Scott. The Lathrop High grad came off the bench to play five minutes and collect two rebounds, an assist and a steal. He did not take a shot.

Bomet Walden

It took 12 years, but Anchorage’s Bomet Walden became the next Alaskan to play in a NCAA Tournament game. The former East High guard came off the bench for 14th seed Murray State and played 15 minutes in an 80-69 loss in the first round to No. 3 seed Arkansas that included Todd Day, Lee Mayberry and Oliver Miller.

Chris Toomer

Chris Toomer of Anchorage became the first Alaskan to start and score in a NCAA Tournament game. The former Alaska player of the year out of West High was in the backcourt for 16th seed Liberty in a 71-51 loss in the first round to No. 1 seed North Carolina, Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse. Toomer played 30 minutes and collected five points, three rebounds, three assists and a steal. This was also the first NCAA Tournament that featured two Alaskans in the same year as Anchorage’s Donny Judd logged playing time for No. 10 seed Maryland.

Jeff Lentfer

Anchorage’s Jeff Lentfer gave Alaska its first connection to a bracket-busting upset after 14th seed Weber State pulled off a shocking 79-72 first-round win over No. 3 seed Michigan State, Tom Izzo and Shawn Respert. The former Service High star started at forward and played 25 minutes. In the second round, Weber State lost 53-51 to No. 6 seed Georgetown, John Thompson, Allen Iverson and Othella Harrington. Lentfer logged 23 minutes and collected two points, three rebounds, a steal and blocked shot.

Trajan Langdon basketball

Trajan Langdon

This was the start of the Trajan Langdon era in the NCAA Tournament, with the Anchorage guard becoming the first Alaskan to net double figures with 10 points in No. 2 seed Duke’s 71-68 win over No. 15 seed Murray State in the first round. The former Alaska player of the year out of East High kept it going in the second round with three 3-pointers and 15 minutes in a 98-87 loss to No. 10 seed Providence, God Shammgod and Austin Croshere.

Langdon became the first Alaskan to reach the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight and be named to an All-Regional team for No. 1 seed Duke, which beat Radford, Oklahoma State and Syracuse to reach the quarterfinals. There, Duke lost 86-84 to No. 8 seed Kentucky, Wayne Turner, Nazr Mohammaed and Jamaal Magloire. Langdon averaged 10 points for the tournament.

Trajan Langdon

Now known nationally as ‘The Alaskan Assassin,’ Langdon earned East Regional Most Outstanding Player honors and became the first Alaskan to reach the NCAA Tournament championship game and to be named to the All-Final Four team. In the Sweet 16, Langdon became the first Alaskan to record a double-double in the Big Dance with 24 points and 10 rebounds against Missouri State. In the national title game, Langdon scored a state-record 25 points but Duke lost 77-74 to fellow No. 1 seed Connecticut, Richard Hamilton and Khalid El-Amin.

Carlos Boozer

Juneau’s Carlos Boozer helped No. 1 seed Duke reach the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 after the Blue Devils won 69-64 over No. 8 Kansas with Drew Gooden and Nick Collison. The former Alaska prep player of the year out of Juneau-Douglas High recorded a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds. Duke was eliminated after losing 87-78 to No. 5 seed Florida, Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller. Boozer compiled 42 points and 27 rebounds in three tournament games.

Carlos Boozer

After playing sparingly in his team’s first four games of the NCAA Tournament because of an injury, Boozer came alive in the Final Four and helped No. 1 seed Duke win the title, making him the first Alaskan national champion. In the semifinals, he scored 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting as the Blue Devils won 95-84 over No. 3 seed Maryland, Juan Dixon and Steve Blake. In the final, Boozer bagged 12 points, 12 rebounds and two blocked shots as Duke won 82-72 over No. 2 seed Arizona, Gilbert Arenas and Richard Jefferson.

C.J. Hooker

Palmer’s C.J. Hooker of No. 1 seed North Carolina became the second Alaskan to win a NCAA Tournament title after the Tar Heels won 75-70 over a No. 1 seed Illinois squad that featured Deron Williams and Dee Brown, and was 37-1 coming into the title game. Hooker played a total of five minutes in the tournament, grabbing a rebound and going 0-for-2 from the free-throw line. The Palmer High product played just one minute in the Final Four but he still got that bling with a championship ring.

Mario Chalmers basketball

Mario Chalmers

This NCAA Tournament saw a record four Alaskans in Anchorage’s Mario Chalmers (Kansas), Anchorage’s Ramon Harris (Kentucky), Sitka’s Roderick Wilmont (Indiana) and Wasilla’s Ray Schafer (Oregon). The second round featured the first time two Alaskans went head-to-head in the Big Dance when No. 1 seed Kansas defeated No. 8 seed Kentucky 88-76. Chalmers collected 16 points, eight assists and four steals against his former Bartlett High teammate, Harris, who scored his only points on a baseline jumper inside the final minute. For Indiana, Wilmont poured in 22 points and made six 3-pointers to key the No. 7 seed Hoosiers’ 70-57 win over No. 10 Gonzaga, Jeremy Pargo and Derek Raivio. For Oregon, Schafer came off the bench for two appearances as the No. 3 seed Ducks advanced to the Elite Eight before losing 85-77 to No. 1 seed Florida, Joakim Noah and Al Horford.

Mario Chalmers

Mario’s Miracle became the game-saving jump shot that will define Chalmers for the rest of his life. With No. 1 seed Kansas trailing No. 1 seed Memphis 63-60 in the final moments of the NCAA Tournament championship game, Chalmers drained a one-dribble, top-of-the-key 3-pointer that tied the game with 2.1 seconds left in regulation. Kansas won 75-68 in overtime over John Calipari and Derrick Rose, with Chalmers’ shot completing the Jayhawks’ improbable comeback from a nine-point deficit over the final 2:12 of regulation. The former Alaska prep player of the year out of Bartlett High scored 18 points and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. He averaged 15 points in six tournament games and was selected All-Final Four. His one shining moment is memorialized in the form of a gigantic, three-story-tall mural in downtown Kansas City.

Jalil Abdul-Bassit

Oregon probably doesn’t qualify for the NCAA Tournament without Anchorage’s Jalil Abdul-Bassit, who averaged 8.2 points per game and shot 43 percent from deep as a senior. The former East High star helped the No. 8 seed Ducks reach the second round before a 72-65 loss to No. 1 seed Wisconsin, Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. Abdul-Bassit drilled 4-of-6 3-pointers in that game and finished with 12 points.