Teams prepare for the Great Alaska Shootout

Thanksgiving is almost here, the time of year for turkey, loose belts, and in Alaska, basketball tournaments.

The Great Alaska Shootout tips-off its 28th year at 6 p.m. on Nov. 22 in the Sullivan Arena with UAA’s women playing Central Connecticut State, bringing some requisite holiday entertainment to local sports fans and some national exposure for UAA as a result of live ESPN coverage of the event.

On Nov. 24 at 6 p.m., the men will face off against South Carolina.

Rusty Osborne, men’s basketball head coach, is confident the men will perform well, but said the team still has work to do.

“We’ve played two games, so we’ll start seeing [room for improvement] as we go,” Osborne said. “We’re happy with what we have, we think we’ve got really good balance. You know, these next few games, as we start playing better competition, we’ll get a better idea if we need to shore up any weaknesses.”

Osborne expects competition to be stiff during the Shootout, which is what he wanted when he helped select the invited teams. Although, there isn’t one team in particular he wants to play, Osborne said the first game against South Carolina will be a challenge.

“They’re coming off an NIT championship and they’ve got just about everybody back. They’ve got an experienced group; they’re a high level, high major team, and they’re coached by Dave Odom, who is an experienced coach and is not going to let his team overlook a Division II school,” Osborne said. “So, we’ve got our work cut out for us, but that’s one of the reasons kids come to UAA-because they like that challenge.”

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Jody Hensen, women’s basketball head coach, said she’s dealing with a pretty solid team this year, but said it’s too early to speculate on how they will perform in the Shootout.

“I think one of the most exciting things is, with all of our new faces, the energy, the enthusiasm and the commitment to the program on the whole, meaning from top to bottom,” she said. “There’s a strong commitment and understanding of expectations, and a willingness to work hard.”

Hensen said a major factor that will impact her team’s performance is that the team is comprised of mostly young and new players. In fact, eight of her 10 active players are new to the team this season, which could factor into their performance in the team’s first Shootout game against Central Connecticut State.

Sports Information Director Nathan Sagan said the Shootout has done well in the past by bringing up strong teams despite regulations cutting back on the number of tournaments a team can participate in each year.

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword though because you want to get the best teams here, but you also want to win a game or two,” he said.

In the past Shootout has grown steadily in popularity, in part, becuase it is an exempt tournament, which means the men’s teams get charged one game out of their regular season allotment for it but get to play three.

Osborne said coaches like it because it amounts to two free games they can use to face off against powerful opposition.

“This year’s field is pretty balanced,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of premier teams, but there are some really good teams that are under everyone’s radar that will be coming up here.”

Tim McDiffett, associate director of athletics, said both ESPN and UAA want to see the best teams play in the tournament for the level of prestige that they bring, but recently this has become more of a challenge.

“As time has gone on, and because of the proliferation of exempted events or certified events, it’s been more difficult to get the cream of the crop every year certainly, but our fields continue to be strong,” McDiffett said.

There will be four games broadcast live on ESPN2, including the championship and UAA’s men’s first game against South Carolina. Three games will be webcasts available on ESPN360.

This is ESPN’s 22 year of Shootout event coverage, he said, and this year Jimmy Dykes and Bob Carpenter will return to the Shootout as announcers for the games.

McDiffett is looking forward to the tournament even though it means he’ll have to work over the holiday.

“It’s a big event because, in a state that is so young, where traditions are few, it’s really established itself as a Thanksgiving tradition not only for the University, but for the city and the State of Alaska as well,” McDiffett said. “It’s really helped put UAA, Anchorage, and Alaska on the map because of the national exposure it gets.”

UAA leases the Sullivan Arena for the tournament, and UAA will collect the revenue generated by ticket sales.

Joe Wooden, general manager at Sullivan Arena, expects the event to be popular this year, if not sold out for the championship game.

“Typically, the first women’s session with UAA playing does pretty well, but it’s a struggle for daytime sessions,” he said. “For Friday and Saturday night men’s games we’re usually pretty close to sold out.”

Wooden said maximum capacity at the arena for a basketball event is 7,872 before “kills,” which are seats that are unusable because of camera crews and other media services.

Concessions will be a major source of revenue for the arena with estimates it will sell 6,500 sodas and 6,000 beers. However, Wooden doesn’t expect all that sugar and alcohol to cause much disturbance.

“We try to anticipate any problems, and since it is a college event, the alcohol is sequestered [to designated areas] so we don’t usually have many problems,” Wooden said.

The arena got new crowd control railings last year, which help to provide the teams with a clear entrance and exit from the court. Police will be a visible presence.

Ticketmaster is offering a package, which starts at $110, that includes all 16 games in the five-day tournament. Tickets for individual games start at $22 for general-admission seats to the championship game, though earlier games are progressively cheaper.

Students can get one free ticket for up to three games at the Information Desk in the Student Union on a first come, first serve basis.

For more information, go to www.shootout.net.