Photo courtesy of ASAA
Kai Nashookpuk loves the view from the top of the world.
The senior all-star with the Alak Huskies girls basketball team is reaping the rewards of being a defending state champion in the form of frequent flyer miles.
Last week it was Barrow, Anchorage and Nikolaevsk. This week it’s Point Hope.
“We’re doing a lot of traveling this year and getting invited to a lot of different places after winning state,” she told me. “We get to play tough teams. It’s awesome.”
Nashookpuk is pretty awesome herself.
The 5-foot-6 guard nearly single-handedly led Alak to the ASAA Class 1A girls state title last year. The Huskies beat Buckland 62-36 and Nashookpuk amassed MVP numbers with 25 points, 11 rebounds, 9 steals and 5 assists.
In the first game this season she scored 43 points. She once pumped in as many as 56 points.
“I just play basketball and do what I do,” Nashookpuk said in a voice barely above a whisper.
She can score from any place in the half court, from 3-pointers to dribble drives. Many of her points come off steals by playing heads-up defense.
“As a basketball player, Kai has many strengths,” Alak coach Edna Ahmaogak told me. “Kai’s defensive strength is her ability to read the court and adjust her stance to increase her ability to play defense. She is able to observe her opponents and made quick decisions on how to best defend them.
“Kai has many offensive strengths. Kai is able to handle the ball well, read the defense and then penetrate through defense, and she is not shy to shoot the ball.”
Nashookpuk grew up playing basketball with her family. They taught her everything she knows. In the summer she can be found shooting jumpers on the hoop hanging on her garage door.
“She is a natural,” Ahmaogak said. “Basketball runs in her family.”
It started with Little Dribblers and continued through elementary school.
“As she entered middle school, Kai’s developed further,” her coach said. “She has always been a key player on her team in high school.”
Off the court, Nashookpuk thrives in whatever she does. In the classroom she is a four-year member of the Alak School Honor Roll. In the outdoors she takes her four-wheeler out on caribou hunts and participates in the Inupiat spring whaling festival Nalukataq.
“She comes to school with a positive work ethic and is a role model for many students in her school,” Ahmaogak said.
The best part of traveling for Nashookpuk is seeing how other people life in Alaska.
“Going to different places is cool because you get to see different cultures,” she said. “It makes the trips more serious and more enjoyable. It’s not just about basketball.”
Nashookpuk is one of just two seniors on the Alak team, which features six underclassmen. Her leadership is pivotal in molding the next generation of Lady Huskies.
“She is always encouraging her teammates to listen and she tries her best during practice,” Ahmaogak said. “Kai listens to directions and asks for clarification when she needs more understanding. As a leader, Kai has demonstrated an ability to develop an environment that is positive for all her teammates. She will usually restate what I have said to her teammates during practice. This shows that Kai respects being coached and is able to build on her and her teammates’ strengths to make everyone better athletes.”
Van Williams is a freelance writer in Anchorage and a correspondent for the Alaska School Activities Association.