FAIRBANKS—There will be a happy bunch of Alaska Nanooks men’s basketball players this weekend in Anchorage.
Their enthusiasm is a result of the regular season finally getting under way, beginning this afternoon with the AT&T Jamboree in the Wells Fargo Sports Complex at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
A mostly new squad gets tested by someone other than themselves when it plays a pair of Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference teams in the tournament hosted by the UAA Seawolves, a Great Northwest Athletic Conference rival of the Nanooks.
The Nanooks play at 3 p.m. today against Colorado State University-Pueblo and at the same time Saturday against Colorado Christian from the Denver suburb of Lakewood, Colo.
“It’s going to be nice because we’ve been working hard all summer,” Dominique Brinson, a 6-foot-2 senior guard and one of three returners from last season, said during a telephone interview Tuesday. “All the junior college transfers and me and Stefan and Sergei have been looking forward to the game coming up (today).”
Juniors Sergei Pucar (6-11 center) and Stefan Tica (6-7 forward) are the other returners from 2011-12, Mick Durham’s inaugural season as a head coach. Alaska finished 2-16 GNAC and 5-13 overall last season.
This season’s Nanooks roster features 13 new faces among 16 players, so the Jamboree offers Durham an opportunity to gauge his team, particularly its depth.
“I feel pretty solid with our top eight, but I’d like to be able to go like 10 deep,” Durham said. “You want to try to get them minutes versus setting a fine line. Early in the season, you’re trying to develop depth and things like that. But with two GNAC games lingering in three weeks, we don’t have the luxury of waiting too long for guys to develop.”
Three players will start both games this weekend — Pucar at center, Brinson at shooting guard and junior college transfer Pat Vouet at point guard.
The starting forwards will be rotated, with Tica at small forward and juco transfer Andrew Kelly at power forward today. On Saturday, the respective starting forward roles go to juco transfer Ronnie Baker and senior Zach Ngawaka, who played last season at BYU-Hawaii, which like Alaska, is an NCAA Division II program.
Durham said, too, that three players are scheduled to redshirt this season — freshmen Colton Anderson, a guard from Nikiski, and Devon Kennelty, a center from Homer, and senior forward Mike Stepovich, a former Monroe Catholic High School standout, who played last season at Division II Post University in Connecticut, which is coached by former Nanooks head coach Al Sokaitis.
Durham said the 6-7 Stepovich is redshirting to focus on completing work for his accounting degree at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Stepovich will be eligible to play next season but will continue to practice this season.
“It’s great having him in practice because he gives us a veteran guy in practice,” Durham said.
Contact staff writer Danny Martin at 459-7586.