Nanooks Men’s Basketball Recognized by State Legislature

Published: Oct. 12, 2022 at 1:39 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Tuesday afternoon before Alaska Nanooks Men’s Basketball team had two special visitors at the Patty center. State Representatives Grier Hopkins and Bart LeBon stopped by to gift Coach Sparling and the rest of the Nanooks with a legislative citation recognizing their historic run in March Madness 2022.

“It was pretty special,” said Coach Sparling. “Our run was huge for the state of Alaska, but also the kids. They’ll never forget what happened.”

The 2021-22 team was seeded tenth (out of ten teams) in the GNAC Men’s Basketball Championship, and their run started with a play-in game against Simon Fraser which they won in overtime, 91-83. Then the magic started to build. The Nooks took down the second seed Northwest Nazarene, third seeded Alaska Anchorage, and fifth seeded Central Washington to claim the 2022 GNAC Conference Championship.

The championship also automatically placed the Nooks in the 2022 NCAA tournament where the magic continued. Seeded eighth in the NCAA West Regional, Alaska shocked the nation upsetting first seed, Cal State San Marcos, and a close one-point, overtime victory against Azusa Pacific, advancing to the Sweet 16.

Unfortunately the run came to an end in the Sweet 16 at the hands of Chico State, but no one would’ve placed the Nanooks in the national tournament without the conference championship, let alone did anyone expect Alaska to win the conference title.

“Their accomplishment meant a lot,” said Grier Hopkins. “When they did as well as they did last year, it needs to be recognized. So having the state legislature show up and give a legislative citation from the entire legislation, congratulating the Nanook team last year on getting their banners on the wall and getting their rings means a lot.”

Another member of the state representatives, actually came to Alaska to play collegiate basketball for Fairbanks, and he has a banner in the Patty Center forty nine years prior. Bart LeBon was a member of the 1972-73 team that beat Central Washington in the District One Championship.

“I know what it’s like to win a championship, and I do know the players put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears in the effort to win a championship,” commented LeBon. “So recognizing them and being a part of that recognition for their accomplishment made me feel extra special and good.”

During the magic of that run, the phrase, “Why not the Nooks?” gained a lot of traction, and fans in and outside Alaska embraced that mentality, and it will continue to be said throughout the coming years as echoes of, “Why not the Nooks” rang through the Alaska Airlines gymnasium yesterday.

“I think a lot of people (outside Alaska) really didn’t understand how much basketball meant to the state of Alaska until we got on this run,” added Sparling. “Everyone was stopping me congratulating me and the players on their run. It was a proud moment. It’s one of those years that only comes around so often. Hopefully we can keep putting banners on the wall, but we know how hard it is to do. We have to keep moving forward and give it everything we have.”

Four members of last years team will be returning for the upcoming season: Abdullahi Mohamed, Tybenn Sturm, Mawich Kachjaani, and Nick Hopkins.

The Nanooks will have two scrimmages with the Seattle Mountaineers and a scrimmage with the University of Washington Huskies before their season officially stars mid-November at the Alaska/Hawaii Challenge against Hawaii Pacific.