The 2002-2003 University of Alaska Anchorage men’s basketball team has focus. After last year’s losing season, head coach Charlie Bruns is excited about this year’s mix of experienced returnees and talented newcomers.
“Right now, they’re on a mission to prove themselves,” Bruns said, who enters his 10th year at the helm for UAA. “Our younger guys got a year older and they’re better for it. Plus, we have a strong group coming in to fill around them.”
The mix of old and new could prove potent for the Seawolves.
Last year’s squad was routinely out-rebounded and had trouble stopping its opponents.
But UAA returns the bulk of its scoring production, and Bruns addressed last year’s problems by adding players capable of filling the team’s need for size and defensive toughness.
The Seawolves will have the luxury of depth at point guard with returning senior Bryson Vaughn and experienced newcomer Scott Stevens.
Vaughn, a 6-footer, ranked in the GNAC’s top five in steals and assists, while starting 26 games last year. Bruns said the Idaho native is a quiet leader who brings defensive toughness to the position.
“I never have to worry about Bryson,” Bruns said. “Whatever role he has to fill, he’ll fill.”
Stevens, a transfer from Otero (Colo.) Junior College, is an offensive-minded point who averaged 12.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists last year. At 6-3, Stevens brings size, court vision and an excellent outside shot to the game.
“We like Scott’s shooting ability,” Bruns said. “But we also think he’ll be a vocal leader for us.”
At shooting guard, UAA has a trio of players who will be on the receiving end of a lot of passes from Stevens and Vaughn.
Senior Cody Gallatin, who spent the last two seasons at point guard, will shift to off-guard to capitalize on his shooting ability. The Nebraska native enters his final season with a career 40 percent mark from outside the arc.
“When he’s open he is as good a shooter as we have,” Bruns said. “With his passing ability, it is almost like having a second point guard on the floor.”
Like Gallatin, sophomore Mark Drake also has a propensity for filling it up from the outside. Drake, the 2002 GNAC Freshmen of the Year, returns after averaging 11.5 points per game.
“We think Mark is going to pick up where he left off,” Bruns said of the 6-1 shooter.
Junior Nathon Glover returns after averaging 8 points a year ago. The Dimond grad has shown an improved shooting stroke and looks to expand his role.
At the small forward position, Bruns, again, has depth.
Junior transfer Blaine Durrant joins the Seawolf lineup. The rugged 6 foot 4 inch, 200-pounder from Snow (Utah) College is an excellent rebounder and defender, and Bruns says Durrant also brings a soft shooting touch.
“Blaine gives us the ability to play inside and out,” Bruns said. “He’s well-rounded.”
Senior Shane Bannarbie will look to improve on a junior season in which he struggled to get minutes. Bruns said the chiseled 6 foot 4 inch Texas native has shown an improved shot and is playing more within himself.
Freshman Adam Fitt-Chappell, an all-state selection from Wasilla High School, has the coaching staff excited. The 6 foot 5 inch wing adds size, and he’s also a quick study.
“He’s catching on right away, which doesn’t always happen with a freshman,” Bruns said.
Entering his junior season, power forward Peter Bullock looks to improve on a sophomore campaign in which he led the team in scoring, rebounding and blocks. The 6 foot 6 inch Bullock earned All-GNAC second team honors after averaging 18 points and 8.7 rebounds.
“Peter is still improving on the court,” Bruns said. “Plus, he is getting more vocal out there as a leader.”
As UAA’s sixth man last year, junior Josh Evans emerged as a surprise contributor. The high-energy power forward was voted the team’s most improved player after posting averages of 5.8 points and 5 rebounds. The bulky 6 foot 6 inch Evans gives UAA size and rebounding off the bench.
Last year, the Seawolves lacked a true center. This year, with the addition of two transfers, they will feature a two-headed monster in the middle.
Junior Bob Austin, a teammate of Stevens’ at Otero, will give the Seawolves gritty play in the paint. A solid rebounder, the 6 foot 7 inch Austin’s long arms will alter shots.
Junior transfer Mike Keddington is also a center in the workman mold.
“Both of them do the intangible things we need done out there,” Bruns said. “Like hitting the boards, setting screens and going to the floor for loose balls. “
UAA opens its season with an exhibition game this Wednesday, Nov. 6 against the AAU Akron Wingfoots. Tip-off is at 7:05 p.m. at the Sports Center … the exhibition could feature the return of former Seawolf Ed Kirk. Bruns says Kirk, a 2001 graduate, is a possibility for the Wingfoots’ roster … the Seawolves won’t be in action again until Nov. 21-23 when they host Cardinal Stritch and Lincoln Christian for the AT&T Alascom Jamboree.