Connecting You With AK Athletes – For 12 Years Strong!!

Alaska Sports Blog editor and senior writer Van Williams has been the driving force behind the blog since Day 1. A 30-year Alaska sports journalist, he provides comprehensive daily coverage of Alaska athletes from all over the world and serves as one of the state’s premier sports historians. The blog came to life on Aug. 24, 2009, as a way to fill a void of media coverage of Alaska athletes once they left the 907 area code. Nobody tracks Alaska athletes better than Williams, a former Anchorage Daily News sports editor and Alaska Press Club award winner.

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July 26, 2021

Lydia Jacoby

Lydia Jacoby lit up Seward all the way from Tokyo.

The 17-year-old swimmer created massive electricity in her hometown after coming-from-behind to win the gold medal in the women’s 100-meter breaststroke at the Summer Olympics in Japan.

Dozens of Seward residents gathered for a viewing party that looked like the Beatles came to town, with people jumping up and down and screaming as they cheered on their hometown hero.

Jacoby was third at the turn and closed strong to pop a blistering time of 1:04.95 followed by South Africa’s Tatjana Schoenmaker, who was .27 of a second behind the Alaskan. World record holder Lilly King was .59 back in third.

“I was definitely racing for a medal,” Jacoby told reporters. “I wasn’t really expecting a gold medal so when I looked up at the scoreboard it was insane.”

Jacoby is the first Alaskan to make an Olympic team in swimming and is the first American woman to win gold in swimming at these Olympics.

She joins Anchorage rower Kris Thorsness (1984), Anchorage softball player Michele Granger (1996) and Juneau basketball player Carlos Boozer (2008) as Alaskans to win a gold medal at the Summer Games. All four of them attended high school in Alaska.

Jacoby, of Seward High fame, is entering her senior year and has committed to the University of Texas.

Jacoby came into the final with a ton of confidence after winning her semifinal heat and posting the second-fastest qualifying time.

The field was stacked with talent, led by world record holder Lilly King, who beat Jacoby at the U.S. Olympic Trials and was chasing her second consecutive gold medal in the 100 breaststroke.

“We love to keep that gold in the USA family, so this kid just had the swim of her life and I am so proud to be her teammate,” King said on the NBC broadcast.

The product of the Seward Tsunami Swim Club was shown the viral video of people cheering from her hometown and her parents cheering from a watch party in Orlando, Florida.

What message do you have for them?

“Thank you for all of the support over the years,” Jacoby said. “It’s been amazing.”

Jalil Abdul-Bassit

Derrick Wilson

Anchorage’s Jalil Abdul-Bassit and Derrick Wilson are on a collision course to face off in the quarterfinals of The Basketball Tournament, which has a winner-take-all $1 million grand prize.

Both players saw their teams win first-round games in the Illinois Regional.

Now they need to win today and again in Wednesday’s sweet 16 to advance to the elite eight of the open men’s tournament featuring former NBA, college and international stars.

Abdul-Bassit, of East High fame, plays for a team called Always Us, which is comprised of University of Oregon alumni. The former NBA G League player bagged three points and a rebound in his team’s 79-73 victory over the Peoria All-Stars.

Wilson, of East High fame, plays for the Golden Eagles squad, which is made up of former Marquette University players. The veteran international player contributed three points, one rebound and one assist.

Wilson’s team won the tournament title last year.

July 25, 2021

Lydia Jacoby

Seward swimmer Lydia Jacoby won her semifinal heat to advance to the finals of the 100-meter breaststroke at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

The 17-year-old comes into the finals with the second-best qualifying time of 1:05.52, just better than world-record holder Lilly King in 1:05.55.

Yes, Jacoby is a legit medal contender on the biggest stage in sports.

“It’s important just to remember at the end of the day it is just another meet,” she told reporters. “You just have to remember to keep your head on your shoulders and not get too carried away with the idea that you’re at the Olympics.”

Jacoby is the first Alaska swimmer to compete in the Olympics and now she’s put herself in position to become the seventh Alaskan to earn an Olympic medal at the Summer Games.

She will be the second-youngest swimmer in the finals behind a 16-year-old from Russia.

July 23, 2021

Obed Vargas

He’s not old enough to get his driver’s license, but Anchorage’s Obed Vargas did chauffeur in a new era for Alaska soccer.

The 15-year-old made his Major League Soccer debut and became the third-youngest player to appear in the country’s premier league.

The marvelous midfielder started for the Seattle Sounders and played 77 minutes in a 1-0 victory over Austin FC, and was named one of the ‘Men of the Match.’

With Seattle missing 10 senior squad members, the Sounders turned to their junior players to make up the second-youngest starting lineup in MLS history.

The youth movement is underway in Seattle and Vargas is part of the new wave.

Vargas is the third Alaskan to play in the MLS, joining Anchorage’s Ely Allen and Hunter Sulte.

Ely Allen

Hunter Sulte

Allen played five seasons in the MLS for four teams from 2008 to 2011. Sulte made his MLS debut in May with the Portland Timbers.

Alaska didn’t have an MLS player for a decade, now we’ve had two make it in a matter of months.

“It’s thrilling to see Alaskans in the MLS. Social media is blowing up,” said 20-year Alaska soccer coach Dan Rufner. “Just cool for (local) kids to see possibilities.”

Vargas comes from a soccer pedigree. His father, also named Obed, played professionally in Mexico.

He’s a chip off the old block.

“His dad really coached him up, so he was really groomed,” Rufner said.

Vargas has been in the Seattle Sounders farm system for the last two years, first with the Sounders Academy and then with the Tacoma Defiance, a reserve team for the big club that plays in the USL Championship league.

He was called up last week and put on the roster, leading to speculation that he would make his MLS debut against the Minnesota Union.

Even though he got a shoutout by the ESPN commentators in that game, he did not play. Four days later, his number was called.

At 15 years, 341 days, Obed Vargas is the third-youngest player in MLS history. Who is the youngest? Freddy Adu. In 2004, at 14 years, 306 days, Adu debuted with D.C.

Sulte is also in the MLS record book. The 6-foot-7 goalkeeper is the tallest player to start an MLS match.

Vargas and Sulte both left Alaska as 13-year-olds to pursue their dreams of playing professional soccer.

Rufner was quick to point out they were developed in Alaska.

“We don’t have a lot of depth but we can produce quality players and Alaska is doing a good job at starting players off,” Rufner said.

Ten years ago, this would have been impossible.

Since then, though, MLS teams have created youth academies, which has opened doors and provided more opportunities for the players like Vargas and Sulte to move up the ladder.

“Plus, we are doing a better job at getting (Alaska) players to events where they are not just scouted by college coaches but also by MLS and academies,” Rufner said. “Some with clubs, but a lot of this is the Alaska Development Program getting to events such as ODP champs (where MLS and academy coaches now scout) and small state friendlies in Boise, where Mike Smith, director of Timbers academy, comes with staff just to recruit players from places like Alaska, Idaho and Montana.”

July 21, 2021

Mike Dunlap (left) and family

The state of Alaska has another NBA champion, and his name is Mike Dunlap of Fairbanks.

The 64-year-old is an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks, who beat the Phoenix Suns 105-98 in Game 6 to win the best-of-7 series.

“Soooo happppy,” Dunlap texted.

He is the third Alaskan to have a hand in winning an NBA championship. The first as a coach.

Other Alaskans to claim the Larry O’Brien Trophy were Anchorage’s Mario Chalmers as a player in 2012 and 2013 with the Miami Heat and Anchorage’s Trajan Langdon as a scout in 2014 with the San Antonio Spurs.

Dunlap, of Lathrop High fame, joined the Bucks’ coaching staff this season after previously serving as an assistant with the Denver Nuggets from 2006 to 2008 and head coach of the Charlotte Hornets in 2012-2013.

Dunlap is hoops royalty in Alaska, a true pioneer.

He was the first Alaskan to play in the NCAA D1 Basketball Tournament in 1980.

The first to join an NBA coaching staff.

The first to to become an NBA head coach.

And now the first to win an NBA title as a coach.

Dunlap also led NCAA D2 Metro State to national championships as head coach in 2000 and 2002.

July 19, 2021

Anchorage’s Jack Bartlett was named Alaska Athlete of the Week after rewriting the history book at the U.S. Powerlifting Association National Championship.

The 270-pound 17-year-old set six world records for the 15-to-19 age group and 125-kilogram weight class.

Bartlett finished with a personal best total weight of 1,587 pounds in the squat, bench and deadlift. He squatted 639 pounds, benched 347pounds and deadlifted 600 pounds.

Four of his records were in the tested category but he also set untested records in the squad and total weight. Tested athletes can set untested records, but untested athletes cannot set tested records.

The athlete of the week recipient is selected by a panel each Friday and announced Saturday at 11 a.m. on the Sports Guys on CBS Sports Radio 590AM and 96.7FM.

View past winners here.

July 18, 2021

Isaac Updike

A few weeks after Isaac Updike suffered heartbreak on the track, the Ketchikan distance runner bounced back with one of his greatest performances.

The 29-year-old became the second Alaskan to run a 4-minute mile after posting a winning time of 3:58.26 at the American Track League in Mission Viejo, California.

Updike joined an exclusive club that was created by Roger Bannister, who was the first man to break the 4-minute mile in 1954.

Since then, only 592 American men have accomplished the feat, including two Alaskans.

Kodiak’s Trevor Dunbar was the first to do it in 2017 with a time a state record time of 3:55.54.

Now we can add Updike’s name to the list.

Updike, of Ketchikan High fame, suffered a heartbreaking result on June 26 in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the U.S. Olympic Trials.

In the lead on the final lap, and with an Olympic berth within his grasp, Updike faded down the stretch to finish fifth and see his Olympic dream slip away.

Rather than mope, he mopped up in the mile.

Updike, a former Eastern Oregon University star, beat former University of Oklahoma All-American Liam Meirow, who finished second in the mile in 3:59.40.

Updike continued his strong 2021 season that in April saw him post Alaska’s fastest steeplechase time of 8:17.74 at the Oregon Relays at historic Hayward Field in Eugene.

Updike shaved seven seconds off his PR and took down reigning U.S. champ Hillary Bor, who was third.

July 17, 2021

Jack Bartlett

Anchorage’s Jack Bartlett rewrote the record book at the Drug Tested U.S. Powerlifting Association National Championships in Palm Springs, California.

The 275-pound 17-year-old set six world records for his weight class and age group in his first taste of national competition on a big stage.

“To walk away with world records is pretty special,” Bartlett said.

He finished with a personal best total weight of 1,587 pounds in the squat, bench and deadlift. His previous career high was 1,532 set earlier this year in Oregon.

Bartlett squatted 639.9 pounds, benched 347.2 pounds and deadlifted 600.8 pounds.

“As a first experience at a big meet like this, there was a lot to learn,” he said. “Once I got past the nerves, my training kicked in and we were able to get some great lifts in.”

Four of his records were in the tested category but he also set untested records in the squad and total weight. Tested athletes can set untested records, but untested athletes cannot set tested records.

“It was exciting to be competing at nationals,” Bartlett said. “My coach, Kyle Young, had me very well prepared.”

Last November, he set national powerlifting records for his age and weight as a 16-year-old.

Bartlett has already made major improvements since then, improving his squat total by 61 pounds, his bench press by 33 pounds and his deadlift by 12 pounds.

He’s actually squatted 650 pounds in a previous competition but international judges are required to be on hand for it to be considered a world record.

The high school senior only recently got into competitive powerlifting with motivation from his football coach.

Up next is the Drug Tested USPA World Championships, where Bartlett will aim to make even greater strides.

“I’m looking to improve my totals there,” he said.

July 15, 2021
Jalil Abdul-Bassit Basketball

Jalil Abdul-Bassit

Coming off wrist surgery, Anchorage’s Jalil Abdul-Bassit had plenty of motivation to work his way back into shape.

A chance to win his share of $1 million.

Abdul-Bassit has joined a University of Oregon alumni team that will compete for big money in The Basketball Tournament, a 64-team, single-eliminator with a $1 million winner-take-all grand prize.

“This is a great event with a lot of great players,” Abdul-Bassit said. “I think my showcasing my ability amongst great talent can only be a plus for me and my career going forward.”

The TBT is like a reunion tour that brings together former NBA players, college alumni and international stars in an open tournament that dates to 2014.

The field has been split into four regions – Illinois, West Virginia, Columbus and Wichita – and tips off this week. The top two teams from each of the four regionals advance to the quarterfinals July 31 in Dayton, Ohio. It’s also the host for the semifinals (Aug. 1) and final (Aug. 3).

The TBT title game will feature an Elam Ending, meaning that one player will hit a shot to win his team a million bucks.

It could be Abdul-Bassit.

The 28-year-old Alaskan has never played in the TBT but he’s used to lacing ‘em up for high stakes. He’s a veteran of the NBA G League and also played pro ball in Australia, Albania and Mexico. In 2017, he pumped in a career-high 43 points in Australia.

“This tournament means a lot to me being that I’m coming off a major wrist surgery just three months ago.” Abdul-Bassit said.

“The doctor told me it would take six months just to get back on the court. I wasn’t even able to shoot a basketball just two months ago, so it means the world to me just to be able to play the game I love again and it’s also on a national stage. It feels good to be back on this stage.”

Abdul-Bassit, of East High fame, played two seasons at Oregon and helped the Ducks reach the NCAA Tournament in 2014 and 2015.

The 6-foot-4 sharpshooter ranks No. 2 on Oregon’s all-time list for career 3-point percentage (.429).

“I think my game has done a complete 180 since Oregon,” Abdul-Bassit said. “I’ve worked restlessly on my skill development and gained a lot more confidence.”

He joins an Oregon squad – nicknamed ‘Always Us’ – that is participating in The Basketball Tournament for the first time. Always Us is a No. 4 seed and will face No. 13 Peoria All-Stars, making its fifth straight tournament appearance.

“I think being that we’re a new team the fourth is seed fair,” Abdul-Bassit said. “But I also know a lot of people are writing us off to lose early so I think we’ll surprise a lot of people.”

The TBT field expanded from 24 teams in 2020 to 64 in 2021. There have been as many has 97 teams in the past.

“The last few years our Oregon players have been thinking about putting a team together but a lot of our teammates are in the NBA or have been busy preparing for NBA ventures, so it was on hold for a while,” he said.

Abdul-Bassit is one of three Alaskans playing for a TBT team. The others are Anchorage’s Derrick Wilson and Ramon Harris.

“It’ll be fun to catch up with my longtime friend Derrick and my OG Ramon,” Abdul-Bassit said. “It should be fun to catch up with those guys.”

Wilson and the Golden Eagles are the No. 1 seed in the Illinois region and could face Abdul-Bassit’s Always Us team in the Sweet 16.

Derrick Wilson

Wilson last year started for the Golden Eagles squad made up of Marquette University alumni that won the 2020 TBT championship.

In 2019, he was part of the Golden Eagles team that lost in the title game.

Wilson, of East High fame, played at Marquette from 2011 to 2015.

The 6-foot-1 point guard played professionally last season in Turkey, where he averaged 17.7 points and 4.6 assists in 27 games with Sigortam.

Wilson has also played in Denmark and Sweden. In 2019, he pumped in a career-high 35 points in Sweden. The 29-year-old will play next season in Hungary after signing with Zalakeramia, where he will play alongside former UAA star Suki Wiggs.

Ramon Harris

The 33-year-old Harris is playing with the Fort Wayne Champs, a No. 9 seed in the West Virginia region.

He played five seasons in the NBA G League between 2011 and 2016, including three-plus seasons for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.

The 6-foot-7 forward helped Fort Wayne win the G League championship in 2014 and reach the Finals in 2015.

Harris, of West High fame, was the first Alaskan to score 1,000 points in the G League.

He’s also racked up pro experience in China, Germany and Greece. In 2011, he netted a career-high 48 points in China.

He last played in the 2019-2020 season for Rethymno Cretan of Greece, where he averaged 5.1 points and 4.8 rebounds in 19 games.

July 13, 2021

Kelsey Griffin

It’s clear Kelsey Griffin of Eagle River is still a force on the basketball court after another eye-popping 20/20 performance.

The 34-year-old forward produced her fourth career 20-point, 20-rebound game in her ninth pro season in Australia.

She poured in 27 points and 20 rebounds for the Launceston Tornadoes in an 87-86 overtime loss to Melbourne.

Griffin started at forward and never came off the court, playing all 45 minutes.

She converted 11-of-28 field goals, including 3-of-8 from the 3-point land. Five of her rebounds came on the offensive end.

Defensively, she grabbed 15 boards, made one steal and blocked one shot.

Griffin, of Chugiak High fame, is averaging 22.9 points and 13.5 rebounds in nine games.

This is her first season NBL1 after spending the previous eight seasons in the WNBL, the premier women’s league in Australia.

Griffin was a four-time WNBL champion, winning titles in 2013 and 2014 with the Bendigo Spirit and 2019 and 2020 with the Canberra Capitals.

The 6-foot-2 Alaskan was the 2019 WNBL MVP and a two-time First Team All-Star.

In 2010, the former NCAA All-American out of the University of Nebraska was drafted third overall in the WNBA. She played five seasons in the WNBA before moving to Europe and then Australia.

July 12, 2021

Hannah Lafleur of Seward and David Norris of Fairbanks were named Alaska Athlete of the Week co-winners after impressive victories at the 93rd Mount Marathon race.

Defending champion Lafleur (she won in 2019, there was no race last year) pulled away from a strong field on the strength of an 11:44 downhill time, the 4th fastest recorded downhill in race history and over a minute faster than her nearest competitor.

The 32-year-old’s winning time of 51:24 was even more remarkable given the muddy uphill trail.

Norris was equally outstanding. The 30-year-old won his third Mount Marathon in three attempts in dominating fashion. His time of 43:27 was more than two and a half minutes better than group of elite Alaskan and out-of-state invite runners in the chase pack.

Norris holds the Mount Marathon course record, recording a time of 41:26 in 2016.

The athlete of the week recipient is selected by a panel each Friday and announced Saturday at 11 a.m. on the Sports Guys on CBS Sports Radio 590AM and 96.7FM.

View past winners here.

July 11, 2021

Bubacar Touray

Three Alaskans were named to the 2010s NWAC All-Decade Team.

The two-year college league recognized Anchorage’s Bubacar Touray as a First Team selection for men’s soccer, Eagle River’s Ashlynn Burgess as a Second Team pick for women’s basketball and Anchorage’s Zak Naylor as a Third Team choice for men’s soccer.

The NWAC is comprised of more than 30 junior colleges in Washington and Oregon, and the league honored some 200 athletes in soccer, baseball, softball, track and field, basketball, tennis, cross country running and volleyball.

Touray was the 2018 NWAC Player of the Year and helped Tacoma win the league championship.

He was a forward for the Titans for the 2017 and 2018 seasons before his death in 2020.

Touray, of West High fame, led the league in scoring in 2018 with 25 goals and 55 points in 23 games.

He had two hat tricks and pieced together a six-game goals streak.

Ashlynn Burgess

The star striker scored at least one goal in 17 of 23 games and produced four game-winning goals.

He finished his NWAC career with 33 goals and six assists for 72 points in 43 games.

Burgess, of Chugiak High fame, was a starting forward for Wenatchee Valley and two-time top-10 scorer in the NWAC during her two seasons.

As a freshman in 2017-218, Burgess averaged 18.2 points and 7.8 rebounds in 29 games. She shot 52 percent from the floor.

She recorded 10 double-doubles, had a season high of 15 rebounds and scored 28 points or more five times, highlighted by a career-high 34.

The 5-foot-10 Alaskan led Wenatchee Valley to the NWAC championship as a sophomore in 2018-2019. She was also named tournament MVP.

She averaged 18.5 points and 6.9 rebounds in 33 games.

Burgess went on to play at NCAA D2 Seattle Pacific University and finished her career with 1,474 points to rank No. 10 all-time among Alaska women in hoops history.

Zac Naylor Soccer

Zak Naylor

Naylor, of South High fame, was an offensive machine who averaged nearly two points per game in 24 career appearances in the NWAC.

As a freshman in 2012, the fab forward scored 10 goals in 13 games. He added eight assists and was among the NWAC leaders with 28 points in 13 games. He had two hat tricks and had another game with four assists.

Naylor bagged eight goals and three assists for 19 points in 11 games as a sophomore.

He registered a point in 18 of 24 games and twice posted six-game scoring streaks.

Naylor went on to play for NAIA Concordia University.

July 9, 2021

Brittney Kroon

Wasilla’s Brittney Kroon overcame a liver transplant in high school to become one of the greatest shot blockers in NCAA D2 women’s basketball history.

The 6-foot-4 center played at Seattle Pacific University from 2002 to 2006 and finished her career with 419 blocks, including 13 in one game.

She ranks fifth all-time in D2 in career blocks and her single-game career high is sixth.

With the Alaskan in the middle, Seattle Pacific posted an extraordinary 113-11 record during her career and advanced to the 2005 national championship game.

Kroon, of Wasilla High fame, underwent a liver transplant in 2002 that saved her life. The year before she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease of the liver.

Her health status turned away some schools, but not Seattle Pacific.

She helped the Falcons win three GNAC titles and two NCAA West Region championships while racking a remarkable .911 career winning percentage.

As a sophomore, she led the country with 4.5 blocked shots per game to help Seattle Pacific reach a No. 1 national ranking.

As a junior, she started every game and averaged 3.9 blocks for a 30-3 team that reached the NCAA D2 title game, losing to Washburn 70-53.

Kroon finished her college career with 907 points, 678 rebounds and 419 blocks.

In 2005, she was named winner of the Honda Inspiration Award, presented annually to the collegiate woman athlete who has overcome great physical adversity to contribute to the success of her team.

Friday Flashback is a series created by Alaska Sports Hall of Fame blog editor Van Williams that looks back on great Alaska athletes from the past. To read about other Alaskans featured in this series, click here.

July 8, 2021

Athena Clendaniel

Anchorage’s Athena Clendaniel has always been the only girl on her baseball team.

From Little League to American Legion, she has carved her own path.

Clendaniel wished more Alaska girls played baseball and hopes to inspire the next generation to prevent future females from being alone on the baseball field.

“It’s the best game ever,” said the 16-year-old. “I really want to introduce girls to baseball and let them know that they can play.”

Clendaniel was so determined to increase participation that she took matters into her own hands by partnering with the nonprofit Baseball for All to create a Girls Day camp that will take place Sunday at Lyn Ary Park in Anchorage.

“Girls just don’t realize that other girls play baseball,” she said.

There are no rules that prohibit girls from playing baseball, only outdated stereotypes.

Some people believe girls should stick to softball, but baseball players like Clendaniel and Nadia Chernich of Fairbanks are helping to reshape that perception.

Clendaniel and Nadia Chernich

Both girls are playing Legion baseball this summer, with Clendaniel pitching and playing first base for the West varsity and Chernich playing first base for the Fairbanks 49ers junior varsity.

“Having two girls in the league is pretty awesome,” Clendaniel said.

It takes courage to buck the system and go against the grain. Being different can be difficult, especially as a teen, so credit Clendaniel and Chernich for having unflinching resolve and chasing their dream.

They are following in the footsteps of Alaska baseball pioneers Wandee Murray and Lauren Frost.

Murray was the first girl to start a varsity baseball game in the Cook Inlet Conference in 1995 with Bartlett. Frost was the first girl to be voted to all-conference for CIC baseball in 2013.

Clendaniel is now the third girl to be an everyday starter in the CIC.

“It’s definitely nice knowing there have been a couple of others before me,” she said.

Clendaniel drove in the game-winning run in her first CIC league game of the high school season. This summer in Legion she ranks among the pitching league leaders in ERA.

“It’s definitely been a little harder this year as I’ve moved up to varsity, but I just go out there and do my best and sometimes it works in my favor,” she said.

The boys long ago accepted her as just another player.

“I’ve been playing against these same guys since Little League All-Stars and now moving up and playing them in high school and Legion. Most of them I know pretty well,” she said. “For the most part they’ve been pretty accepting.”

Clendaniel has heard stories from girls in other states about how they are still not welcomed on a baseball field.

“I know a lot of girls where their high school coaches won’t even let them try out for the team or their teammates don’t talk to them or things like that,” she said, “so it’s definitely super nice knowing that I’m just another one of the guys and it’s not really a big deal.”

More girls are playing baseball today than ever before. Clendaniel is hoping her Girls Day camp will pique the interest of younger players in Alaska.

Her message is already spreading. She recently heard from a mother of two 13-year-old girls in Seward who are coming to her camp.

“Their mom texted me that they wanted to help out,” Clendaniel said. “That’s pretty awesome.”

July 6, 2021

Mike Dunlap of Fairbanks was named Alaska Athlete of the Week after helping lead the Milwaukee Bucks to the NBA Finals from the bench.

The 64-year-old assistant coach continues to elevate Alaska basketball as the first Alaskan to coach in the NBA. He is now the first Alaskan to coach in the NBA Finals after the Bucks defeated the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals series.

This is Dunlap’s first season with Milwaukee. He previously coached in the NBA as an assistant with the Denver Nuggets from 2006 to 2008 and a head coach with the Charlotte Bobcats from 2012 to 2013.

Dunlap, of Lathrop High fame, has done a lot of winning in his career as a player and coach. He was also the first Alaskan to play in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament in 1980 with Loyola Marymount.

The athlete of the week recipient is selected by a panel each Friday and announced Saturday at 11 a.m. on the Sports Guys on CBS Sports Radio 590AM and 96.7FM.

View past winners here.

July 5, 2021

Taylor McCart

Anchorage’s Taylor McCart flourished in one of the biggest starts of his baseball career.

The 19-year-old pitcher started for the Anchorage Glacier Pilots in the annual Fourth of July doubleheader against the Anchorage Bucs in front of several thousand fans at Mulcahy Stadium.

McCart pitched four innings and picked up his first win in the Alaska Baseball League as the Pilots held on for a 4-3 victory.

McCart, of Bartlett High fame, became the fourth Alaskan this season to earn a winning decision in the ABL, one of the country’s premier summer college leagues.

The other three victorious Alaskans are Eagle River’s Cody Curfman of the Pilots, Wasilla’s James Arend of the Mat-Su Miners and Eagle River’s Justin Nevells of the Chugiak Chinooks.

They are among a group of 12 Alaskans playing in the ABL this summer.

McCart pitched his freshman season at Dakota Wesleyan University. He came back for a chance to play for his hometown ABL team.

This was his fourth appearances with the Pilots and by far his best effort. The Pilots are 4-0 when he pitches.

McCart has a 2.57 ERA in seven innings of work across four appearances with the Pilots.

Cody Curfman baseball

Cody Curfman

James Arend

Curfman has a 1-0 record in eight appearances with the Pilots. He has a 3.27 ERA in 11 innings with six strikeouts.

Arend has started two of his four games with the Miners and has posted a 1-1 record. He has 11 strikeouts in 11.2 innings.

Nevells has a 1-0 record and 3.48 ERA in seven appearances with the Chinooks. He has racked up a half dozen strikeouts in 10.1 innings.

Other Alaskans pitching in the league include Anchorage’s Leland Wilson (Bucs), Homer’s Mose Hays (Oilers), Anchorage’s Bubba Mendoza (Pilots) and Wasilla’s Austin Robertson (Miners).

Offensively, Anchorage’s Terren Sugita leads the Alaska contingent with a .356 on-base percentage and six base hits. Anchorage’s Luke Langnes (Bucs) is batting .286 on 2-of-7 hitting while Wasilla’s Waylon Payne (Miners) and Nevells (Chinooks) each have one hit.

Anchorage’s Ricky Gatter (Bucs) picked up his first ABL hit over the holiday weekend. Last month, he went 4-for-4 in an exhibition game against the Legion All-Stars.

July 3, 2021

Bill Balog

North Pole’s Bill Balog beat all comers at the Plymouth Dirt Track on the Sheboygan County Fairgrounds in Wisconsin, including NASCAR Cup Series driver Chase Briscoe.

The ‘North Pole Nightmare’ took the lead for good on the sixth lap of the 30-lap sprint car race on the clay oval and then held off challenges from several drivers to collect his 132nd A-main victory in the Interstate Racing Association.

On lap six, Balog blew by Briscoe in heavy traffic to take the lead. On lap eight, two-time IRA champion Scotty Neitzel charged in to briefly pressure Balog for the lead as the leaders weaved their way through slower traffic.

Former IRA champion Jake Blackhurst turned up the heat to close in on Balog on lap 20, but Balog pulled away down the stretch to collect his fifth A-main win of the 2021 season.

Balog, 40, is believed to be the most successful sprint car driver from Alaska. He grew up racing motorcross and snowmachines before turning his attention to sprint cars in 2000.

He went from racing on Saturday nights in Fairbanks to racing for a living in the Upper Midwest. The son of a race car driver, Balog first moved to Washington to chase his racing dreams before going to Wisconsin.

In his first season in the IRA, he was named Rookie of the Year. He has dominated the racing series since then, racking up a record 10 championships in the season points race. In addition to his IRA success, he owns a 2016 win in the prestigious World of Outlaws series.

July 2, 2021

Steve MacSwain

Few Alaska athletes have seen their legacy stand the test of time quite like Anchorage’s Steve MacSwain.

A true hockey pioneer, his scoring records from the 1980s still serve as a modern benchmark.

As a high school senior, the 1982 East grad became the first Alaska player to record 100 points in a season on 55 goals and 49 assists. His 104 points rank second today.

The next season he set a U.S. Hockey League scoring record with 60 goals in 48 games with Dubuque, and his 122 points rank fourth today.

In college, his 31 goals in the 1986-87 season at the University of Minnesota are still the most for an Alaskan in a single season at the NCAA DI level.

He was the first Alaskan to play for Team USA at the World Championships and the first Alaskan drafted by an NHL team.

MacSwain is rink royalty in these neck of the woods.

His 147 career college points and 68 goals are fourth among Alaskans at the D1 level. His 79 career assists rank fifth.

In 1986, MacSwain was selected by the Calgary Flames with the No. 4 overall pick in the NHL Supplemental Draft.

He played six years in pro pucks, making stops in Italy, Sweden, Switzerland and Germany, before returning home to skate for the Anchorage Aces from 1995 to 2000, notching 144 points in 186 career games.

MacSwain also played three years of major league roller hockey and in 1995 with the Los Angeles Blades bagged 16 goals and 16 assists for 32 points in 21 games.

Friday Flashback is a series created by Alaska Sports Hall of Fame blog editor Van Williams that looks back on great Alaska athletes from the past. To read about other Alaskans featured in this series, click here.

June 30, 2021

Kelsey Griffin

One of Alaska’s greatest basketball players elevated the Nebraska women’s program to new heights during her career.

Eagle River’s Kelsey Griffin is now getting the ultimate reward.

The hoops star headlines the 2021 University of Nebraska Athletic Hall of Fame class that will be inducted Oct. 1 in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Griffin led the Huskers to three NCAA Tournaments, including the best season in program history when the Huskers posted the first perfect regular season in Big 12 history (29-0).

She was named to the Big 12 Conference All-Rookie team as a freshman. She earned first-team All-Big 12 honors and led Nebraska to the NCAA Tournament each of the next two years before missing the 2008-09 season due to an injury.

The 6-foot-2 forward returned from the injury with one of the most complete seasons in program history in 2009-10.

As a senior, Griffin was a first-team All-American, the Big 12 Player of the Year and a finalist for every national player-of-the-year award. She also earned a spot on the Big 12 All-Defensive Team and was Nebraska’s first Senior CLASS award winner in any sport.

Griffin led the Huskers to their first-ever NCAA Sweet 16 appearance and only Big 12 regular-season title.

Along the way, Nebraska posted the first perfect regular season in Big 12 Conference history, achieved the highest ranking in school history (No. 3) and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Griffin ended her career with a school-record 127 starts and 40 double-doubles, while ranking second in program history in rebounds (1,019) and third in points (2,033).

Following her Husker career, Griffin was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 WNBA Draft, and she was named to the 2010 WNBA All-Rookie Team.

After five seasons in the WNBA, Griffin went on to play in Australia’s WNBL where, as of 2020, she was a three-time WNBL champion and three-time Grand Final MVP.

Griffin graduated with a degree in biological sciences from the University of Nebraska in 2010. Her No. 23 jersey was retired by Nebraska in 2014.

June 28, 2021

Kenai’s Allie Ostrander and Ketchikan’s Isaac Updike were named Alaska Athlete of the Week co-winners after turning in outstanding performances against elite fields of professionals in the steeplechase at the U.S. Olympic Trials.

Ostrander clocked a personal best time of 9:26 in the 3,000-meter obstacle race. The 24-year-old cut nearly four seconds off her previous PR and finished eighth out of 14 runners with an Olympic berth on the line.

Her 8th place finish matched her placement in the 2016 trials.

With the top three finishers advancing to the Olympics, Updike led the men’s race into the final lap before fading to 5th place with a time of 8:24.

A late bloomer, the 29-year-old Updike has developed recently into one of the top steeplechase runners in the country and his time of 8:17 remains the top American performance this year.

The athlete of the week recipient is selected by a panel each Friday and announced Saturday at 11 a.m. on the Sports Guys on CBS Sports Radio 590AM and 96.7FM.

View past winners here.

June 26, 2021

Isaac Updike

Ketchikan runner Isaac Updike suffered major heartbreak at the U.S. Olympic Trials.

In the lead on the final lap of the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase, the 29-year-old Alaskan fell off the pace and finished fifth.

Only two spots separated him from anguish and glory as the top three finishers punched their tickets to the Tokyo Summer Games.

Updike finished in 8:24.72, about two seconds behind third place.

He was near the front in the 14-man field for the first six laps before making a move with the lead pack on the seventh lap. He was in the lead by an eyelash when the bell sounded, signifying the final lap.

Hillary Bor and Benard Keter quickly set the pace for the final lap and eventually finished 1-2. Meanwhile, Updike was still up for the third spot but faded after he stumbled over the final water barrier to open the door for Mason Ferlic to snag the final Olympic spot.

Updike entered the final as the top seed after running 8:21.01 in the prelims. He was the race leader for the majority and coasted to victory.

Updike is a professional runner who trains with the Empire Elite Track Club out of New York.

June 24, 2021

Allie Ostrander

Kenai’s Allie Ostrander ran a personal record against an elite women’s field of professionals in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon.

The 24-year-old Alaskan clocked a time of 9:26.96 to cut nearly four seconds off her previous PR and finished eighth out of 14 runners with an Olympic berth on the line.

The top three finishes punched their tickets to the Toyko Summer Games.

Ostrander, of Kenai Central High fame, did finish strong with the fourth-fastest time on the final lap, but she was never in the running for a top spot.

She is a two-time Olympic Trials qualifier and repeated her eighth-place finish from 2016.

Ostrander will have another shot at qualifying for the Olympics as she will complete in the 10,000 on Saturday.

She was a three-time NCAA steeplechase national champion in 2017, 2018 and 2019 before turning pro. She’s sponsored by the Seattle-based Brooks Beast pro team.

June 23, 2021

Mike Dunlap

In the twilight of his 40-year hoops coaching career, Mike Dunlap of Fairbanks takes nothing for granted.

He savors every moment and soaks up memories like a sponge, especially when it comes to winning a Game 7 in the NBA playoffs.

The 64-year-old assistant coach celebrated like a rock star after his Milwaukee Bucks held on for a 115-111 overtime win over the Brooklyn Nets to earn a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.

“A shot of tequila and a beer right there in the locker room,” he said. “You celebrate. Then management comes in and people are dropping their guard because the pressure is Mach 3, so any chance you get those tiny windows you take advantage of it.

“When you’ve been in it a long time you know there’s always work to be done, but it’s a matter of picking your spots where you do celebrate. So you get really good at celebrating in short increments, even if they are hourly; but you don’t leave that behind because you never know if you’ll ever get here again.”

This will be Dunlap’s first trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. It’s a crowning achievement in a career that has spanned four decades and seen him become the first NBA coach from Alaska.

He spent two seasons with the Denver Nuggets from 2006 to 2008. Then he became head coach of the Charlotte Hornets for the 2012-13 season. Now he’s an assistant in his first season with Milwaukee.

The Bucks brought him in to focus on offensive rebounding and zone defense. Dunlap is famous for his instruction and defensive strategy, especially when it comes to zone defense. He’s even made a few DVDs on the subject.

Getting back to the NBA was a big deal for him and he’s grateful Milwaukee head coach Mike Budenholzer took a chance on hiring “this old guy” from Alaska.

“I’ve always been able to communicate and articulate a vision to the people who hired me. ‘Hey, this guy is pretty confident, let’s give him a chance.’ And it’s the same thing with the Bucks,” Dunlap said. “It wasn’t because I knew more than anybody. It wasn’t because I had a certain system. It was my ability to listen and find something in common with the person I was communicating with to build trust and get my point across, and maybe motivate them in a different way than they had been touched before.”

The Bucks will face the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals, with Game 1 tonight in the best-of-7 series.

This is not Dunlap’s first dance in the NBA playoffs. He twice helped the George Karl-coached Denver Nuggets reach the postseason in 2007 and 2008, losing in the first round both times.

He’s also got professional playoff coaching experience when he was a head coach for three years in Australia, where he guided the Adelaide 36ers to the finals in 1994, and semifinals in 1995 and 1996.

Playoff basketball is incredibly intense, he said, both physically and mentally. There isn’t as much time and space to shoot the ball, which is why you see a dramatic decline in scoring.

“It’s gnarly,” Dunlap said. “Mentally, you find out who your gritty guys are … and that’s why a guy like P.J. Tucker is so important because he’s a beer can guarding a tall Martini glass when it comes to him and Kevin Durant.”

Durant had an epic Game 7 performance with 48 points, including a long jumper that tied the game at 109-109 with 1.6 seconds left in the fourth quarter to force overtime.

But Durant went scoreless in OT and missed another long jumper late that would have tied the game.

“You’re trying to wear a legend down,” Dunlap said of Durant. “Fortunately, that last shot, I would give P.J. full credit for the fact KD in the overtime just didn’t have enough legs to get that ball to the rim. He did everything he could, but when you look at it, it was the wear down, so you go back you really find out who the gritty guys are that can handle the variables of being on the road, because Brooklyn is as tough a place to win as anywhere because you got all those New Yorkers.

“It was a helluva win.”

Dunlap, of Lathrop High fame, has done a lot of winning in his career as a player and coach. Don’t forget he was the first Alaskan to play in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament in 1980 with Loyola Marymount.

He got into coaching right away and over his career built a reputation as an architect for rebuilding teams.

He twice made a quantum leap that properly illustrated his awesome adaptability – first going from NCAA Div. II Metro State to NBA assistant with Denver in 2006, and then going from St. John’s assistant to NBA head coach with Charlotte.

“That’s unheard of,” he said.

Dunlap has accomplished everything on the bench from assisting NCAA Power 5 teams and leading Metro State and Cal Lutheran to No. 1 national rankings, to helping the Nuggets reach the 50-win benchmark and supporting Milwaukee’s second appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals in 21 years.

Looking back, it’s been quite the ride for Dunlap.

“I was able to go from one environment to another environment and become a part of it, a meaningful part of it,” he said. “I’m someone who can develop an organization and players and a team to go from bad to good to great.

“Sometimes I failed, sometimes I succeeded. But that’s the legacy.”

June 22, 2021

Dylan Baker

Juneau’s Dylan Baker has racked up a ton of triumphs on the baseball field. Gatorade Alaska Player of the Year. Junior college regional pitcher of the year. Sixth-highest MLB draft pick from Alaska.

Now you can add another: Double-A call up at age 29.

Baker’s promotion came courtesy of the Cincinnati Reds, who recently signed the rocket right-hander to a minor league deal and shipped him off to the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Double-A South division.

This will be his third stint at Double-A in his nine-year pro career after the Alaskan was called up from the American Association of Professional Baseball, an independent league. He had been with the Kansas City Monarchs.

“I knew I was always good enough to get back to affiliated ball,” Baker said, “but my biggest thing was just stay healthy. If I do that, I’m giving myself the best chance for teams to watch me.”

It’s rare for a player at his age, from an independent league, to get signed by a major league organization, so this was definitely one of the most rewarding results in his nine-year pro career.

“I actually got a call from my agent and I was just thinking to myself, ‘He’s calling to check in and probably see how my outing went the night before,’” said Baker. “I wasn’t wrong but he also asked how does being a Cincinnati Red sound. I said a few words that I won’t mention but I was incredibly happy.”

He last played for a MLB affiliate in 2018 when he pitched for the Double-A Tulsa Drillers of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. He also pitched for the Double-A Tulsa RubberDucks of the Cleveland organization in 2017.

Baker, of Juneau-Douglas High fame, is one of just 12 Alaskans to reach the Double-A level.

He got back there by pitching lights out in the American Association. In four games with the Monarchs, he posted a 2-0 record and 2.57 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 21 innings.

“I knew I was pitching pretty well this year and giving myself a chance to get picked up by a team but also knew I can’t think about that every day.”

This was Baker’s third season in the American Association, a respected independent league that gained some traction after MLB restructured its minor league system and eliminated many teams.

The league is packed with former draft picks and elite players like Baker, a fifth-round MLB draft pick by Cleveland in 2012 as a 20-year-old out of Western Nevada College.

In his final college season, Baker went 13-0 with a 1.91 ERA and 126 strikeouts in 84.2 innings. He held opponents to a .155 batting average and was named NJCAA Region 18 Pitcher of the Year.

At the pro level, he has started 76 of 132 career games and been under contract with MLB affiliates with Cleveland, Milwaukee, Los Angeles and now Cincinnati.

Baker ranks No. 3 all-time among Alaskans in the minor leagues with 420 innings and No. 6 with 345 strikeouts. His 25 starts and 117 strikeouts in 2013 are the second most in a single season among Alaskans. His eight saves in 2018 rank third.

“Age definitely hasn’t slowed me down but I have realized I have to take better care of myself and put myself in the best situation possible,” he said. “This is the best I’ve felt in a long time so it’s going to be a good and fun year.”

Baker is the prototypical power pitcher – hard fastball, hard slider. His fastball is clocked at 95-98 mph and his slider comes in in the 86-89 range. He also throws a split-finger fastball as an offspeed pitch.

“I would say my stuff is pretty similar to what it has always been,” he said. “My mechanics have changed some but my velo and all that is there. Really excited to get going and get into a groove.”

June 21, 2021

Seward’s Lydia Jacoby was named Alaska Athlete of the Week after becoming the first swimmer from Alaska to qualify for the Olympics, recording a sizzling second-place finish in the 100-meter breaststroke at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska.

The 17-year-old came back from fifth place at the halfway mark to nearly catch defending Olympic gold medalist Lilly King, who posted the world’s fastest time of the year in 1:04.79.

Jacoby now has the world’s second-best time of 1:05.28. Jacoby, who was by far the youngest swimmer in the finals, improved on her own national age-group record by.43 of a second.

The athlete of the week recipient is selected by a panel each Friday and announced Saturday at 11 a.m. on the Sports Guys on CBS Sports Radio 590AM and 96.7FM.

View past winners here.