Phil Jordan, seen here talking to his Service team during the 1991 state title season, has been inducted into the ASAA Hall of Fame. Photo credit Jordan family
They started on the same bench, and now championship coaches Phil Jordan and George Houston will enter the ASAA Hall of Fame in the same class.
The legendary basketball bench bosses are among five coaches, four athletes, an administrator and a sponsor that make up this year’s class being honored by the Alaska School Activities Association.
“It’s a great honor and I’m really happy I get to go in with George Houston,” Jordan told me. “He’s been a friend of mine since 1970. We played basketball at UAF and our dorm rooms one room away from each other. It’s great to go in with a friend like him because I think he’s done a wonderful job and good things for basketball in Alaska.”
Jordan and Houston were part of a hoops heyday in Alaska in the 1990s, a decade that produced some of the greatest players and coaches in Alaska history.
“We had some great battles with Phil when he was at Bartlett and when he was at Service. His teams were always tough and well prepared,” Houston told me. “We’d battle like crazy on the court and then shake hands afterwards and be friends off the court.”
The 1990s were dominated by teams coached by three coaches – Jordan, Houston and East’s Chuck White. From 1991 to 1999, their teams won every Class 4A state championship in Alaska.
“To win in that era was fantastic,” Jordan said. “It was a wonderful thing if I could knock off one of those big teams.”
Jordan won the 1991 title with the Service Cougars and the 1996 championship with the Bartlett Golden Bears.
Houston led the Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears to back-to-back state titles in 1997 and 1998.
“It’s kind of crazy that we started out in the same dorm in Fairbanks and ended up all these years later winning championships,” Jordan said. “How it happened I don’t know.”
After wrapping up their playing careers at UAF, both men started coaching as assistants under the great Clair Markey at Lathrop. Houston had played for Markey in high school and they helped Juneau win a state championship in 1969. Jordan fit right in the winning culture and three became close off the court.
“Clair ended up taking us under his wing and teaching us the ropes early on. We were very fortunate,” Jordan said. “The three of us, we spent hours and hours together doing nothing but talking basketball. It was my baptism by fire in coaching.”
Jordan’s claim to fame was being the first coach in Alaska high school history to win three state championships with three different schools in separate classifications. His third title came with 2A Lumen Christi in 2004.
“I think I had a systematic approach and the kids bought into the fundamentals that were necessary for success,” he said. “I used those drills with the very best teams I coached and the very worst teams I coached. I felt like we were always competitive because of those fundamentals.”
At Service, he coached two of the school’s greatest players in Jason Kaiser and Jeff Lentfer and led the Cougars to their first boys basketball title in program history.
“I’m pretty proud about that,” Jordan said.
At Bartlett, he helped develop guys like Damon Nicholas, Cameron Rigby and Doron Perkins.
He was a coach that kept a short bench and at times had a short temper. He built relationships on trust and loyalty.
“I think I was intense. I don’t think I was an easy guy to play for but I think I was an honest guy to play for,” he said. “I had some teams that weren’t championship teams that I am every bit as proud of as the ones that did because they played above what everybody thought they would. I’m very proud of some of my teams that won nine games.”
Houston joined the Juneau coaching staff in 1974 and spent the next 32 years on the bench.
He coached the JV for 18 years, staying loyal to longtime varsity coach Jim Hamey, before finally getting his dream job.
“Jim Hamey allowed me to develop as a coach,” Houston said. “He let me do a lot of things on the floor and teaching. I’d make mistakes and we’d go along and talk about things and develop. Just like you want your players to get better so do you as a coach.”
He was finally named Juneau head coach in 1992 and over the years he coached greats like Carlos Boozer, Evan Tromble, Christian Carpeneti and Will Egolf.
Houston posted a 279-85 career record and led the Crimson Bears to 11 conference championships in 14 years.
“You want your teams and your kids to represent your community the best possible way. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it’s not quite as good as you wanted, but you work like crazy to do it,” he said. “You invest a lot of time and energy in doing that. It’s important. That’s why coaches do it. It’s something that, as competitors, you try to build on.”
Other ASAA Hall of Fame inductees for the Class of 2017 include Homer basketball and track star Beth Ladd, North Pole basketball star Brad Oleson, Dimond track star Dwyane Jones, Homer basketball star Jody Hensen and longtime coaches Dave Cloud of Homer, Bob Durado of West and Earle Walker of Dimond.
Other selections were longtime Anchorage School District administrator Teresa Johnson and Ravn Alaska, an ASAA sponsor that has provided more than $250,000 worth of in-kind travel since 2008.
Van Williams is a freelance writer in Anchorage and a correspondent for the Alaska School Activities Association.