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Hometown’s rugged identity shaped Conn’s personality, prepared him for college hoops

05/06/2017, 2:00pm AKDT
By Van Williams

“Anybody that comes out of Petersburg is going to have a good work ethic just because it’s in your blood,” said Class 2A player of the year headed to Whatcom CC in Washington.

Armed with a soft touch around the basket, Petersburg's Stewart Conn will head to Whatcom Community College in Washington this fall. Photo credit Rick Brock

Stewart Conn

They say we are a product of our environment. If that’s the case, it explains the rugged playing style of basketball player Stewart Conn.


He’s from Petersburg.


“We’re a fishing community and just like fishing, if you don’t work hard you’re not going to keep your job,” he told me. “Anybody that comes out of Petersburg is going to have a good work ethic just because it’s in your blood.”


Conn is a 6-foot-3 guard that plays more like a forward, attacking the rim with the same brute force he uses to handle heavy fishing gear on a boat.


The 2017 Class 2A player of the year blends ferocity and finesse on the court. He’s a 205-pounder that can overpower opponents off the dribble and with a soft touch around the basket.


“My strongest assist is going to the hole,” he said.


Conn, 18, was the centerpiece of Petersburg’s state championship team this year.


“I think Stewart is ready for the next level because of his high basketball IQ, his physical strength and his athleticism,” Petersburg coach Rick Brock told me. “Plus the fact that he knows how to win will help him in college.” 


Conn recently put his game on display for coaches at Whatcom Community College in Bellingham, Washington, during a trip with the Alaska Exposure Senior Trip. It was there during an open workout that he repeatedly schooled a 6-foot-7 defender by taking the ball to the rim.


“The coaches were having a blast. They kept telling me to go at him all the time,” Conn said. “I just had a really good day I guess.”


The Whatcom coaches were impressed enough to offer Conn a scholarship on the spot.


“They liked that I could hold my own,” he said. “I really liked the school and they put something together for me. I love the Bellingham area.”


He was actually born in Bellingham and still has family in the area, which made easier the decision to attend the NWAC school.


Conn visited the school as part of the Alaska Exposure Senior Trip, which included some of the best seniors in Alaska and coached by Bartlett’s Steve Drussell and East’s Jason Jno-Lewis. The team had planned to visit several schools in the NWAC, but originally Whatcom wasn’t on the list. It was a late addition.


“I’m really glad we went there,” he said. “The coaches were super nice guys and the players were cool and introduced themselves.”


At Petersburg, everybody knew Conn’s name.


He was player of the year, a three-year starter and 1,000-point career scorer. As a senior, he averaged 22.2 points on 57 percent shooting to go with 7.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.4 steals per game.


“He's not afraid to take the big shot at the end of the game. He was a leader on the floor as well as off. A good friend to everyone, he helped make our team a very tight group,” said Brock, who coached Petersburg championship squads in 2017 and 2007.


“We will miss a lot of things, all the things stated earlier, plus the fact that he could play many positions on the floor, very versatile. He knew all the plays and sets from multiple positions, and would help others learn their spots.”


Conn is, after all, a product of his environment.


“I probably wouldn’t be as good of a player or person than I am today if I didn’t live in Petersburg,” he said. “The whole community is behind you no matter what.”


That support comes in different forms.


It could be a parade, where the players are riding big, red fire trucks through town.


It could be open gym, where Petersburg alumni put the current kids through the ringer to toughen them up for the conference play in arguably the toughest pound-for-pound region in the state.


When they aren’t fishing, a night at open gym could include some of the biggest names in school history, former college players like Aaron Severson [UAF], Trevor McCay [Southern Oregon] and Cam Severson [Western Washington]. Others, too.


“All the guys that won state in 2007 come and definitely push us,” Conn said. “There’s been a couple fights because guys are going at it so hard.”


He compared it to brothers scraping in the back yard.


“It’s all in the game. It’s competitive here. Everybody wants the spot,” Conn said. “After the game everybody is cool with each other; it’s like a big family. But on the court, we definitely push each other.”


Van Williams is a freelance writer in Anchorage and a correspondent for the Alaska School Activities Association.

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