When the Alaska-Anchorage basketball team plays tonight in the annual Utah Classic basketball tournament, it will be a homecoming of sorts for several people in the Alaska program.
Alaska meets No. 2-ranked Michigan in the opening game at 6 p.m. followed by Utah and Holy Cross at 8 p.m.The coach of the Seawolves is Ron Abegglen, a 1962 graduate of Brigham Young University, who coached at Snow College for a decade.
Three players on Abegglen's team also have Utah connections. Race McCleery, a 6-5 senior forward, prepped at Woods Cross High School and played for Abegglen at Snow prior to and after his LDS mission. Joe Brinkerhoff played at Millard High School and also played at Snow before and after an LDS mission. And Jerry Sommer, a 5-7 point guard, played last year for Salt Lake Community College. All three have started games for A-A this year.
Abegglen came up to Alaska four years ago as an assistant coach and was promoted to head coach in 1986. His records his first two years have been 23-7 and 24-10 and last year he directed the Seawolves to a second-place finish in the NCAA Division II playoffs.
"I'd known about Alaska basketball and helped them with their players," said Abegglen. "I knew the coaches up here and became good friends with Coach Larrabee."
Being a native of Utah, Abegglen knows this state produces good basketball players, so he keeps an eye out for prospects. He says he relies on friends and relatives to keep him informed on Utah players and he makes occasional visits here. One of his top players a year ago was Averian Parrish, who played at Dixie College and briefly at BYU.
"It's nice to be down here for the holidays," said Abegglen, who has two sons, Kirk and Kris, who are golf professionals in Utah. Abegglen and Utah Coach Lynn Archibald sort of worked out a trade as Utah played in the Great Alaska Shootout last month.
Abegglen knows his team's work will be cut out for it in facing unbeaten and No. 2-ranked Michigan.
"Michigan will be tough. They clobbered us a couple of years ago," he said.
But Abegglen and his team are used to playing top-notch Division I teams every year in the their tournament. Earlier this year, the Seawolves played defeding national champion Kansas even before faltering in the final few minutes.
Although he was reportedly one of the three finalists for the Weber State job last year, Abegglen is happy where he is right now.
"It's an awfully good job," said Abegglen.
And if his success continues, he'll have the job for an awfully long time.