This article has been moved in front of the Empire’s paywall.
There were few layups when picking Alaska’s greatest women’s basketball player of all-time. However, there were definitely some slam dunks.
In the 1970s, it was Debbie Benson. In the 1980s, Jeannie Hebert and Andrea Lloyd. The 1990s had Molly Tuter and Brit Jacobson. In the 2000s, it was Jessica Moore, Kelsey Griffin and Talisa Rhea. The 2010s saw DaJonee Hale and the rise of Ruthy Hebard and Alissa Pili. In the 2020s, it’s been the Sayvia Sellers Show.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Alaska has produced dozens and dozens of elite players over the years, but who is the Greatest Of All Time, aka, the GOAT? We’re talking all players, all levels, all time.
Finding a winner is the idea when creating a 64-player bracket, but the mission was to honor the legacy of these players and showcase the top-shelf talent that has come out of The Last Frontier. Sometimes the journey is more important and digging up all these names will serve up a trip down memory lane.
Ranging from 1976 to 2022, the list is long of elite female hoopers and narrowing that pool down to a 64-player bracket was a result of 200 hours of research and my 30 years of experience covering Alaska basketball.
Many factors went into calculating the player rankings: stats, impact, legacy, claim to fame and awards in addition to where they played in college.
It’s easy to rattle off household names from Jessica and Jeannie to Ruthy and Alissa, but things get interesting when you navigate the treacherous terrain of comparing similar players from different eras.
The bracket spans six decades and reads like a who’s who of Alaska women’s basketball – a definitive guide to the elite of the elite – and along the way uncovered overlooked gems like Letricia Castillo and Jelila Abdul-Bassit, underappreciated stars like Pooky Knowles and Aminata Cole, and forgotten faces like Debbie Benson.
Benson, a Fairbanks native, played for UAF from 1976 to 1980 and *still* ranks second in rebounds and sixth in points in Nanooks history, 42 years later.
The bracket was split into four regions that were named in honor of Alaska champions for women’s rights: Elizabeth Peratrovich, Cornelia Hatcher, Bettye Davis and Alberta Schenck.
The No. 1 seeds are Jessica Moore, Kelsey Griffin, Ruthy Hebard and Jeannie Hebert.
Moore, of Palmer, was a Parade All-American at Colony High before going on to UConn, where she scored 1,233 career points and was a three-time NCAA champion. In the WNBA, Moore played nine seasons and reached the Western Conference Finals in 2006 and 2008 with the Los Angeles Sparks, and the 2009 WNBA Finals with the Indiana Fever. She is tops among Alaskans with 222 games in the WNBA and ranks second in points (644) and rebounds (450). Her 22 playoff appearances rank No. 1 in state history by a mile.
Griffin, of Eagle River, was a former Big 12 Conference Player of the Year at Nebraska, where she amassed 2,033 points and 1,019 rebounds and was named a First Team All-American as a senior. She was drafted third in the WNBA and scored a state record in points (801) and rebounds (683) before going on to a stellar international career, mostly in Australia, where she earned FIBA Asia Cup MVP honors and won four WNBL championships, including three Grand Final MVP awards.
Hebard, of Fairbanks, was a three-time Gatorade Alaska Player of the Year at West Valley High, where she scored 2,227 points – fourth-best in Alaska high school history. She went on to become a First-Team All-American and two-time Katrina McClain Award winner given to the country’s top power forward at Oregon, where she Alaska records for career points (2,368) and rebounds (1,299). She was the first Alaskan to win a WNBA championship and is currently playing overseas, where she became the second Alaskan to play in the EuroLeague.
Hebert, of North Pole, was a NCAA Freshman All-American and All-Big East Conference guard for Miami, where she posted 1,766 points and an Alaska record 694 assists. Hebert was a bona fide pioneer for the state as the second Alaska woman to play in the NCAA Tournament in 1989 and first Alaska woman to play in the NIT in 1990.
Hebert turned to coaching after her college career and has been a staple at Wasilla High, where she developed stars Chandice Cronk, Brittney Kroon, Jenna Johnson and Alysha Devine, who are part of the same bracket as their coach. Devine will face Hebert in the first round of this mythical matchup.
The No. 2 seeds are Olympic gold medalist Andrea Lloyd, WNBA trailblazer Molly Tuter, three-time All-Pac 10 Conference selection Talisa Rhea and former Pac-12 Conference Freshman of the Year Alissa Pili.
Pili, of Anchorage, is one of four active players in the bracket as a junior at Utah. She holds Alaska’s high school girls scoring record with 2,614 points at Dimond High and was a two-time Max Preps National Athlete of the Year. The three-time All-Pac 12 Conference selection recently became the third-fastest Alaskan to reach the 1,000-point benchmark at the NCAA Division I level.
This bracket ties the past with the present, mixing old-school legends with today’s all-stars such as high school seniors Sayvia Sellers and Mikayla Johnson, and college senior Jordan Todd of Northwestern State.
Sellers got Laettner-to-the-Dream-Team treatment, earning a No. 4 seed without having yet graduated high school; but this prolific point guard is a star in the making. The Washington Huskies signee is ranked No. 28 nationally and is in prime position to become the first Alaska girl to play in the McDonald’s All-American Game. She’s also never lost a game in Alaska (55-0).
The iconic East T-birds had the most players (6) selected from a single high school, and Dorena Bingham coached four of them – Natalie Jones, Laura Ingham, Azella Perryman and Ashley Mickens – including three on the same team.
East’s 2000 state title team with Azella Perryman (#44), Ashley Mickens (#22), Natalie Jones (middle first row) and head coach Dorena Bingham (far right)
Chugiak and Juneau had five players selected while Colony, Wasilla, West Valley, ACS and Dimond had four.
Former Bartlett standouts Letricia Castillo and Jelila Abdul-Bassit went unnoticed for much of their careers, but each one did big things in college. Castillo was Air Force’s first 1,000-point scorer and earned all-tournament honors at the Great Alaska Shootout while Abdul-Bassit went from NJCAA All-American at Monroe to starting guard for D1 Maryland-Eastern Shore.
Sisters Sylvia and Beatrice Bullock are both No. 6 seeds, along with Beatrice’s college teammate at Iowa, Leah Magner. Magner’s sister, Amber, is also part of the bracket as a No. 13 seed.
UAA had the most players picked of any school, landing 11 in the bracket, most notably former teammates No. 6 seed Hannah Wandersee and No. 7 seed Jenna Buchanan.
Buchanan hails from the small town of Galena, one of a handful of rural players in the bracket along with No. 4 seed Chanice Cronk, who grew up in Northway, and No. 9 seed Adrienne Taalak, who is from Nuiqsut and played high school ball at Mt. Edgecumbe.
Taalak was one of six UAF players selected, with five of them landing single-digit seeds: No. 7 Debbie Benson, No. 8s Kaillee Skjold and Heidi Arts, and No. 9 Sheena Brown.
Former Kenai Central High teammates Stacia Rustad and Mendy Benson both went on to play in the NCAA Tournament and both earned No. 10 seeds.
Old-school players were represented, such as No. 12 seed Sonya Welch from the 1980s, No., 13 seed Amber Magner from the 90s and No. 15 seed Pooky Knowles, who in 1990 became the all-time scoring leader (1,112 points) for Alaska Pacific University.
Then there’s Aminata Cole, one of only four Alaskans to finish her college career with 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. Cole is part of a group of players who made it out of the NWAC to find success at the NCAA Division II level, putting up huge numbers along the way. Others grouped among the Nos. 14 and 15 seeds with her include Deb Simmers, Gabi Fenumiai, Ashlynn Burgess, Sandin Kidder and Laci Effenberger.
Above is a graphic showing the rankings for all 64 players in the bracket to determine Alaska’s greatest women’s basketball player.
• This article originally appeared online at AlaskaSportsReport.com.