Being from a small town, Ninilchik basketball standout Austin White never imagined he would be selected Gatorade Alaska Player of the Year.
He figured one of the big-city boys would get the honor.
But he was wrong. It was him.
It was a case of the big guy scoring one for the little guy.
“I knew I was a finalist for the award but I definitely wasn't getting my hopes up on winning it,” White told me. “With so many great player in the higher classifications like Jeremiah Bailey and Erik Jenkins, I really felt it leaned in their favor.”
The 6-foot-7 senior forward led the Wolverines to a 21-8 record this season and a second straight Class 1A state championship.
White averaged 17.3 points, 13.7 rebounds, 4.1 blocks and 3.7 assists per game.
“My teammates did a great job getting the ball to me in a good position to score so it was fairly easy to put up some good numbers,” he said. “I think over this last year I've done a pretty good job rounding out my entire game from defense, to scoring, to facilitating on offense and handling the ball.”
White is a two-time first team all-state honoree, and now he’s a Gatorade Alaska Player of the Year.
“When I found out I was selected, I was just baffled. I feel very accomplished and blessed to have been given this prestigious award,” White said.
“Really, it's an amazing feeling. I feel like all the work I've put in over the years and the countless hours in the gym with Coach Nick [Finley] really paid off.”
White and Finley swept top player and top coach honors for 1A in the Alaska Roof Coatings/Alaska Association of Basketball Coaches All-State Team voting before the state tournament.
At the state championships, Ninilchik went 4-0 and won its final two games by a total of 60 points. In the final, White collected 23 points and 14 rebounds for the Wolverines in a 79-39 victory over Gambell.
“I felt like I did a fairly decent job beating the other team’s defensive efforts to stop me,” White said. “I wanted to show that I was a great player at any level, not just 1A, and with the Gatorade Player of the Year in the back of my mind, I pushed myself to work as hard as I could when I was on the court.”
White is the first 1A player to earn Gatorade honors since the award started in 1986.
But he’s not the only small-schools player to garner the honor. In 1987, Mike Cronk won the award for 2A Northway.
In addition, 3A winners included Kamaka Hepa of Barrow in 2016 and 2015, Scooter Bynum of Monroe Catholic in 2014 and Kyle Fossman of Haines in 2010.
Other than that every other year was a 4A player.
“I think it's great that small schools are starting to get a little recognition and I'm honored to be part of helping that recognition along,” White said.
The player of the year is headed to the University of Alaska Anchorage this fall to begin his college career with his home-state Seawolves.
“I definitely have a lot more to improve on and definitely look forward to doing so at UAA,” White said.
Gatorade Alaska Players of the Year
2017 Austin White, Ninilchik
2016 Kamaka Hepa, Barrow
2015 Kamaka Hepa, Barrow
2014 Scooter Bynum, Monroe Catholic
2013 Adam Klie, Service
2012 Connor Devine, Wasilla
2011 Devon Bookert, West
2010 Kyle Fossman, Haines
2009 Ryan Hanley, Dimond
2008 Kevin Winford, Bartlett
2007 Jesse Bean, Wasilla
2006 Ramon Harris, West
2005 Mario Chalmers, Bartlett
2004 Mario Chalmers, Bartlett
2003 Ray Schafer, Wasilla
2002 Andrew Smith, Bartlett
2001 Ricky Brown, East
2000 Jason Erickson, Chugiak
1999 Carlos Boozer, Juneau-Douglas
1998 Carlos Boozer, Juneau-Douglas
1997 Eli Wilson, Colony
1996 Cameron Rigby, Bartlett
1995 Mao Tosi, East
1994 Trajan Langdon, East
1993 Trajan Langdon, East
1992 Jumoke Horton, East
1991 Jeff Lentfer, Service
1990 Chris Toomer, West
1989 Ray Macon, East
1988 Pierre Newsome, West
1987 Mike Cronk, Northway
1986 Brian Petro, Bartlett
Gatorade Alaska Notes
Van Williams is a freelance writer in Anchorage and a correspondent for the Alaska School Activities Association.
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