The list of Alaskans on a Division I college basketball roster is short.
When put on the spot, Juneau’s Jacob Calloway, 21, can think of three others besides himself who are on it: Brandon Huffman at North Carolina, Kamaka Hepa at Texas and Nathan Fromm at Albany. Calloway, a junior at Southern Utah University, understands he’s living a dream most high school hoopers — Alaskan or not — will never experience. Last season was an especially fun ride for the 6-foot-8 small forward. Calloway started in nine games for the 13-19 Thunderbirds and played especially well against past national champions like UNLV (14 points, four rebounds) and Michigan State (12 points, five rebounds, two steals).
The Empire caught up on the phone on Friday with Calloway from Cedar City, Utah, where he was finishing his first week of fall classes. Calloway, who starred on Thunder Mountain High School’s basketball team from 2012-2015, talks about last season, playing Michigan State on the road and what his hopes are for this season. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Juneau Empire: You scored 12 points last December against Michigan State, can you talk about that experience?
Jacob Calloway: We were playing pretty good, we had just beaten Long Beach State who’s generally pretty good. We were going into that game and I was starting that game. The first play of the game they passed me the ball on the wing and Jaren Jackson was guarding me — I think he was the No. 4 pick this year (in the NBA Draft) — but he was guarding me and I jab-stepped him and I was like, ‘This guy’s really not going to get that much more up on me.’ And I shot a three and made it, first shot of the game, pretty cool feeling. That got my confidence going and I made three or four more, (was) getting some rebounds and playing good defense. It was a pretty fun game though. It was pretty crazy playing in front of 15,000 people like that. It’s like, half the population of Juneau.
Empire: Who are the opponents that draw the most fans when you’re playing at home and what are those games like?
Calloway: Weber State’s a big one because they’re kind of like our in-state rival right now. Last year when we played Long Beach State there were a lot of people there because we were on a run, I think we got ranked top-100 going into that game in the country and a lot of people wanted to see what we could do so they came and watched that game. It was pretty fun. A lot of it’s kind of based on how we’re doing in the season. If we’re winning a lot, we’re going to get a lot of fans. But if we’re not, no one’s going to want to watch a loser.
Empire: How would you sum up your sophomore season?
Calloway: It was a fun sophomore year. We played against a lot of big opponents like Iowa, Michigan State, Oregon State, UNLV, Boise State. I don’t think we won any of them but all those games — besides Boise State and Iowa — were close games that really showed us that we know we can get there.
Empire: What were you hoping to elevate in your game in the offseason to prepare for the upcoming year?
Calloway: Just tuning in my shooting; make sure I can really shoot the ball next year because that’s kind of the role my team’s told me they need me to do. And rebounding really well and just being a playmaker. My role from last year to this year is supposed to be up even more so I’m just maximizing things I’m good at and getting better at the things I was not as good at.
Empire: What would be a successful year for you guys?
Calloway: Our coach has a big philosophy where he doesn’t really want to talk about goals. He wants to do the work and then we’d be good enough that we can do what we want to do type thing. I think a good season for us would be 20-plus wins and making it to the NCAA tournament. I feel like we really can do that. I mean every team, every player in the country is going to say that about their team. No one’s ever going to come in here and be like, ‘Yeah, if we can just at least win a few games then it will be a good season.’ I just feel like we’ll be good. We have a lot of good players and I think if we just focus on what we need to focus on, we’ll be fine.