Major: Business Administration, Marketing
Basketball is king for many youth in rural Alaska. A brightly lit gymnasium and rack of basketballs can serve as a refuge from the long winters and cold nights that characterize the far North.
Two of the Seawolves’ own grew up in this environment. Senior forward Christian Leckband of the men’s team was raised in Nome, Alaska and starred for Nome-Beltz High School from 2007-11.
Senior guard Jenna Buchanan was recruited by the Seawolves out of Galena, Alaska, a small village in between Fairbanks and Nome on the Yukon River. Buchanan played on the Galena High School team from 2008-2012 and helped the Lady Hawks win their first-ever state championship as a senior.
The similarities between Leckband and Buchanan don’t stop there. Prior to the start of the 2015-16 season, the two have played in the exact same number of college games – 83. The two also shoot the three ball with virtually the same precision. Over the past three seasons, Leckband has shot 39% from long range while Buchanan has shot 40%.
In an exclusive interview with The Northern Light (pages 16-17), TNL delves more deeply into the lives and basketball careers of these two Alaskans.
TNL: I know you are from Nome, have you lived there your whole life?
Leckband: “I kind of moved around a little bit growing up. I lived in Seward for a while. I lived in Fairbanks for a little bit, lived out in Palmer even for a little while. But Nome was really kind of the steady place for me. I’ve always had just a bunch of family there so it’s always been the community I go back to.”
How did Nome shape your upbringing as a basketball player?
“Having such a small town, like honestly, it’s a huge basketball town. Like any kind of rural village, small town, rural, rural Alaska, if you go out there the big sport is usually basketball. Just growing up with that I developed more of a love for the game. I remember being a little kid and I’d go to all the Nome [High School] varsity games and you would literally have like, half of the town in the gym, just packed in there.”
What were some of your “coming of age” moments in Nome as a basketball player?
“It’s kind of funny how late everything kind of came around for me. The funny story that my high school coach likes to tell is that I went from the camera man my freshman year in high school to starting center the next year… Well my freshman year I was like 5’ 9”, 5’ 10” and then I grew to like 6’ 4” over a summer, yeah, it was kind of an awkward summer. I think my senior year is when I kind of came into my own and actually started to seriously consider college basketball as an option for me.”
A community like Nome — they must really rally around that team and so as a star player on a team, did it sometimes feel like the whole town was cheering for you?
“Yeah, it’s actually unbelievable for me during that time because of how much…support I got from them. To this day it’s even unbelievable. I’ll still get messages and texts from community members saying like, “Oh, we saw you on TV,” or you know like, “Great job,” just really supporting me.”
Who was your biggest mentor as a kid?
“I’ve had a lot of family support. My oldest cousin Haven — he is basically like a brother to me. He was a huge mentor for me. He always kept me grounded whenever I would get a little too big-headed at times but he would also pick me up when I really needed it and he really drove me…to make the most of my opportunities.”
What were some of the other things you did outside of basketball?
“A lot of my time was honestly spent at the gym or just hanging out with friends. We’d do typical kids stuff — play video games, hang out, sleep overs, all that. Just go out and have a lot of fun. Being in Nome you kind of have to create your own fun. The summers are absolutely amazing. Just being able to go out on the countryside — we’d go on hikes, go on camping trips, we’d go out on the beach, make big fires and invite a bunch of people.”
Okay, back on the basketball track — it sounds like in high school you were one of the tallest players on your team and then coming to a collegiate team where you got probably some bigger guys. What was that like finding your role in college?
“I developed so late that when I did finally hit my growth spurt I was able to retain my guard capabilities. It was kind of a blessing for me to develop later in life. I grew up my entire life as a guard but as soon as I got to high school, being the tallest player on my team, I had to play center just out of the necessity.”
What have been some of your favorite experiences as a college basketball player here at UAA?
“Honestly, I’ve had an amazing time over these last five years. A lot of it has been the relationships I’ve been able to develop. I’ve been able to meet such a wide variety of people and develop relationships with teammates, other athletes. I’ve been grateful for my experience here.
It’s been quite the change kind of seeing the development of [the Alaska Airlines Center]. I started out playing in the Wells Fargo [Sports Complex] and so I’ve had the experience playing over there and playing in the [AAC]. I kind of miss the old gym honestly, I didn’t mind the Wells Fargo all that much, but you can’t really compare it to what we have now at the arena, it’s an amazing facility.”
Why would you say it’s sad to not play in the Wells Fargo anymore?
“I come from a small town; I’m used to small, compact gyms and everything. That’s what I grew up playing in. When I came to the Wells Fargo I was just kind of used to that setting.”
Where’s your favorite spot on the floor to shoot from?
“Ooooo… if I had to pick one? Left wing, that’s probably my favorite spot.”
Who is your favorite player in all of basketball?
“I’m a [Kevin Durant] fan. Growing up like I’ve always loved LeBron James — he was my favorite player. I’m a big KD fan though … But if I had to pick one person’s game to realistically model after like I love [the Golden State Warriors’] Klay Thompson’s.”
Who is one person that could challenge you in a three point shooting contest?
“For players that I have personally played with on the team Kyle Fossman and Travis Thompson are some of the guys I’d have to feel pretty good that day to challenge them to a shoot off. Brian McGill is also one of those guys who when he gets rolling. Guys we have on the team this year, Spencer [Svejcar] is a really good three point shooter when he gets going, same with Diante [Mitchell], we have quite a few good shooters on the team.”
Do you have a favorite shootout memory?
“I think the Loyola-Marymount game was a fun one. That might have been my sophomore year, back when we had the shootout over in the Sullivan Arena. That was a tough game. It was probably one of my favorite inspirational speeches that [Coach Rusty Osborne] ever gave to us. He comes into the locker room and he just — I can’t give all the details of it because he said a few choice words — but he came in there and he just rallied us and we fought the entire second half and we beat a very good Loyola Marymount team that year.”
What are your goals for this season – either individually or as a team?
“I think we have a lot of talent on the team this year and because of that I think we can go pretty far — you know as far any team in the past has or even farther than that. I have a lot of expectations for this year, just from a talent level, I think we’re very talented. I think that its still very early to see how far we can go. We have a lot of new guys that are coming in and expected to play a lot of the minutes. And coming in it takes a while to learn just the systems we have defensively, offensively, everything like that. I’ve been proud of how they have done so far and I can only expect things to get better.”
What do you plan on doing after you graduate?
“I’ve actually had this question quite a bit. I’m not too sure what the next step for me. The biggest thing for me right now — there is only two focuses for me right now and that’s finishing up my degree and finishing up my senior year of basketball on a good note. I never really expected to be here in this college basketball life, so who knows what might happen after that.”