Every Thanksgiving in Anchorage , Alaskans come together to share in a special feast. But it's not turkey that is the center of attention. Instead it's the buffet of basketball known as the Great Alaska Shootout.
The Shootout, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last fall, has a storied and colorful past. "Live From the Frontier" takes readers back in time to the Shootout's roots when the Seawolves were known as the Sourdoughs. In 1977, then-UAA coach Bob Rachal hatched a scheme to bring Division I teams to Alaska via an obscure NCAA rule. The rule meant that teams were exempted for up to three games played in Alaska , Hawaii and Puerto Rico . Rachal, a flamboyant man who once dressed in a tux and top hat on the sidelines, set up seven contracts but before he could see his plan through he was fired in the spring of 1978. The contracts were found when others cleaned out his desk and the UAA had a dilemma on their hands. They could g cut their losses and $8,000 to each team (which was an enormous amount for their budget at the time) or they could put on a tournament that featured the likes of Louisville , Indiana and North Carolina State . They chose the latter and the rest, as they say, is history.
In "Live," author Lew Freedman teams up with the UAA Athletic Department and the Anchorage Daily News to chronicle the journey from a fledgling tournament known as the Sea Wolf Classic to the ESPN-broadcast spectacle that it is today. All profits from the limited-edition book will go to UAA student-athletes.
The backbone of "Live" is the straightforward, chronological history lesson Freedman lays out. Readers learn not only about the Shootout but also about UAA and Anchorage in general. The Shootout originally was put on at Buckner Fieldhouse on Fort Richardson but only after West High was passed over because the Nutcracker was being performed there. Who would guess that the Nutcracker was a bigger draw than the Shootout?
As good as Freedman is about squeezing in every detail, sometimes words can take you only so far. By using photos from the ADN, the now-defunct Anchorage Times and the UAA archives, the book captures the reader's eyes at every page. Words can't capture the emotion on head coach Harry Larrabee's face as he runs onto court after UAA beat Idaho on a buzzer beater in 1991.
The organization of the book is another of its strong points. Chapters are divided into four separate time periods that guide the reader through Shootout history smoothly. Along with the main text comes an informative 36-page Shootout Almanac including the 25 greatest games as compiled by UAA sports information director Nate Sagan.
UAA athletics couldn't have a picked a more qualified author than Freedman. The former ADN sports editorhas published multiple books about Alaska and has been around the Shootout and UAA sports since their start.
But the best part of the book is the accounts of visiting players and coaches experiencing Alaska , like Louisville players reluctantly sampling muktuk or Kentucky 's Wayne Turner getting lost on a snow machine ride at Martin Buser's house in Big Lake . You also can't deny how quotable some athletes are. As 7-1 Miami Hurricane center Tito Horford said while getting off the plane from Florida in 1987, "I can't believe humans live here."
One downside is the section on the women's tournament. The women's portion doesn't pack nearly as much of punch as the men's, which is unfortunate given the history of the Northern Lights Invitational, now known as the unofficially as the women's Shootout. That's not to say Freedman fails completely. He still gleans some nuggets but it only seems to touch the tip of what was out there.
Want to be a well-informed hoops fan at the Shootout this Thanksgiving? Than get your fill of basketball anecdotes mixed in with a bit of UAA and Anchorage history and a hearty helping of glossy pictures that "Live" serves up. Your coffee table will thank you and so will UAA student athletes.