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Gambell Basketball Player Chooses Between Hometown Team and Seattle Opportunity


NBA point guard Derrick Rose was first scouted at his local high school and eventually drafted by his hometown Chicago Bulls. Sixteen year old Wallace Ungwiluk is a big fan of Rose — and a point guard too. But basketball could carry the junior from Gambell much further from home — more than 2,000 miles to Seattle, where he’s been recruited to play for a private high school.

This summer, Ungwiluk has a decision to make — stay home and try to win Gambell its first championship in 30 years or move to Seattle and get seen by college scouts.


According to Alvin Aningayou, there’s nothing like a Gambell home game.

“It’s a raucous, rowdy, exciting, electrified environment,” he said. “When we win, you can feel the excitement and the buzz. And when we lose, you can feel their heart breaking just as our heart’s breaking. It’s just incredible.”

Aningayou is coach of the Gambell boys basketball team, and he said it’s Wallace Ungwiluk who has gotten the crowd going in recent years.

He is the team’s captain, point guard, and top scorer. As a sophomore last season, he averaged over 27 points per game — nearly double the production of Gambell’s second best scorer. And Coach Aningayou said he’s just getting better.

“He’s special,” he said. “He started to shine, and he’s continually trying to get better. And that’s what we need — not having players settle.”

Wallace was in Anchorage last summer for a basketball camp. He trained, worked on his game, and — for the first time — saw just how far basketball could take him.

“That was the first time I’ve really ever been coached or pushed that hard,” he said. “I went to that camp not thinking I’d get much exposure there, but I actually did and I was quite surprised. This is a big opportunity for me.”

That’s the opportunity to move to Seattle, attend a private school, and play competitive ball. The chance comes from Seattle Lutheran High School, which had a solid postseason last year and is planning for a deep run in this season’s state tournament.

But the opportunity comes at a critical time for Wallace and his hometown team. Gambell is looking to improve after a string of early exits from the Bering Strait School District’s annual tournament. In the last two years, Gambell has been knocked out quickly, and Wallace wants to help turn the team around and contend for the title.

“I do want to stay here in this village and win a championship for this village, because it hasn’t been done in about 30 years. But I’m not only thinking about my high school career,” he said. “I’m also thinking about after high school. I want to play college basketball, and my best chance for that is getting exposure in Seattle.”

Wallace said western Alaska is no hotbed for college recruitment, and he knows most scouts don’t make it to St. Lawrence Island. Even after writing letters to 12 colleges and making a YouTube video of his highlights, Wallace isn’t sure he can crack a college lineup if he stays in Gambell.

“No one’s really heard of me,” he said. “But Seattle — they’ve got colleges all around Seattle. They’ve got scouts there too. It gives me a better chance.”

But Seattle would also be a big change. In Gambell, Wallace gets around on his four-wheeler, often with his 12-year old brother Skyley. He loves boating, snowboarding, and doing subsistence hunting with his family. His dad Rodney has home movies of Wallace’s first whale-hunting trip, and his mom Yuka makes his favorite meal, walrus.

Life in Seattle would be different, and Wallace worries about being homesick, getting lost in a big city, and having to make new friends at school. But he takes pride in representing Gambell, and Coach Aningayou said he’ll support Wallace whether he stays in Gambell or takes his talents to Seattle Lutheran.

“If he decides to stay, I think it’s going to be a breakout year for Gambell,” he said. And if not, “he has a chance of actually making a living playing basketball — something he loves. That’d be a great success for him. For the community also.”

But either way, Wallace said he won’t leave Gambell for good.

“I want to study business, and I want to come back out here to this village because the unemployment rate is super high,” he said. “I want to be able to establish something where there could be jobs for everybody because it’s hard to live out here. And that’s one of the reasons that I want to go off to college and I’ll be coming back.”

Until then, Wallace will attend three summer basketball camps and think about his decision. His final stop will be Seattle, where Wallace and his dad will tour his prospective school and meet with the Seattle Lutheran coaches in person. He’ll make his final decision after that visit.

Editor’s note: A version of this story appeared online that referred to Wallace Ungwiluk’s opportunity to play at Seattle Lutheran High School as an “offer.” The school’s athletic director, David Sleighter, said Seattle Lutheran does not provide financial assistance or incentives to players. The word “offer” has been changed for clarification.

10 Comments

  1. jake on July 30, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    Explore the world. It can be scary for a little while, but it’ll get fun quick and you’ll learn so much. Let your talents take you around the world and you’ll always have a home to come back to.



  2. Shemmy on July 30, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    Our very own Wallace, what a great opportunity! Whichever choice you make, our love for you remains the same in our hearts!



  3. Carol Marlin on July 30, 2015 at 2:48 pm

    Hi Wallace. My name is Carol. I’m so impressed by your basketball abilities and I really hope you take advantage of the opportunities your being offered. My father was the Gambell elementary school principle in 77-79. I went to 8th grade there in 77-78…so I know how lucky you are to be in this position. I have always believed that EVERYTHING happens for a reason. I feel that if you go to Seattle and end up not liking it, you can always go home…BUT if you stay home and don’t take the chance to live your dream and later in life regret it, you won’t have the chance to change your mind because it will then be too late. Continue being happy regardless.



  4. peter on July 30, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    He needs to leave the Vill… It will bring the best outta him and show his weakness and know his strengths I hope this kid can make it from a fellow ak assassin



  5. Dolly Kiy on July 30, 2015 at 6:09 pm

    Wallace, reach for the stars!!! If you stay, you’ll have your whole life of “what if’s.” Your village will understand. There’s nothing wrong with leaving home to pursue your dreams.



  6. ALA on July 30, 2015 at 6:16 pm

    See the world. If you don’t like it you can always go back home. Home will always be there. Just imagine all the Alaska native boys with your potential who wish to have this opportunity. You would be paving a way for them and give them dreams and let them know they can reach them as well.



  7. Angela on July 30, 2015 at 8:55 pm

    So awesome. How often do Islanders get an opportunity like this? especially a huge life changing career. Like Carol said, if you don’t like it, you can always go home. This is huge for you, grab it while it’s there. Am from Savoonga, live in Nome & I know how limited it is living on the Island as far as having a job. Go for it, reach for the stars kid!!! I am excited for you, even though I have no idea who you are



  8. Joe Dirvin on July 31, 2015 at 2:23 am

    Follow your heart. Myself, I would go to Seattle. Later with a college degree you could go on to do great things for the people all over Alaska to include Gambell.

    Mr. Joe
    Teacher, Gambell, 1980-1983



  9. kevin on July 31, 2015 at 7:45 am

    hard choice, but yes if you dont go there will be the regret later in life…but your going to be a junior…possibly play at home and then your senior season in Seattle??



  10. Johnny Doesome on August 2, 2015 at 10:11 am

    Bring a Championship or 2 home in your last 2 High School years at home where you Trust and Know your players inside and out, make history for your School District, and especially your home town and team in 30 years! There is nothing like winning a High School District Basketball Championship, its a ONCE in a life time deal or no deal, and no more chances once you graduate. Put a well deserved, 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 Championship banner next to the 1986-1988 banners! That would be a life change for your village! City life and City high school basketball is more tough than that of village High School basketball, in my opinion. There will be taller and bigger players younger than you, tougher, faster, and especially Ruthless, they will not give you chances when it comes to competing for a big school district Championship. Seattle may be one man short for a Championship title competition, but your hometown team is no man short for a District Championship. In my basketball opinion, STAY HOME, there will never be a team like your home town team in years that has a chance to win a District Championship. A great player like you makes a big difference on the Team and Coach, it is like dominoes, when you play good like you do, your whole Team and Coach will do the same! Keep those dominoes dropping hot! Let there be no limit for your falling dominoes, because somewhere on the road you will find your Team at the State Championships, where the real fun, exciting, once in a lifetime basketball games begin. I wish I can move there and coach your Team while its a Championship Caliber team. Tough teams don’t win by tough defense. Tough teams win by non-stop running, because every single second is very critical in every game. If you goof off and shoot jump shots or 3 pointers, your opposing team will always win. Running wins Championships. Defense, Free-throws, Rebounds, etc., are all just the tactics we use to help win a game! Running will win the game!

    My advice for your Coach this year and next year?
    1. Keep running in practice!
    2. Run some more!
    3. Run, run, run!
    4. Your team already has skill and talent, just need to run more!
    5. Run and run, no matter how jello-fied your legs get, run!
    6. Teams that win Championships don’t win with their skill, talent or tough defense, its the running in practice that will pay it off in the last 4th Quarter!
    7. Nothing is more important in practice than running and running!
    8. When it comes to the 4th Quarter, and your team is up ’46-55′, doesn’t mean you’re going to win. Keep running them legs!
    9. Sooner or later, the teams that you lost to that won Championships, will give up at an unexpected timeframe on your time clock because you ran!
    10. That team you lost to, WILL GIVE UP AT SOME POINT when you keep running them legs off, meaning that your opponents team will give up because they have limits when they get tired, and all they’ll have is skill and talent, no legs to run on!
    11. Watch some High School State Championship games from the past on DVD or online, you will see the big difference in who wins. The teams that won, never stopped running no matter how slinky-fied their legs got, meaning that they never stopped running no matter how many times you got rammed and dunked over by the opposite team.
    12. Trust and Know your players and Coach inside and out, know and memorize their weakness and strength, and know what you have to do to fulfill their weakness and assist their strengths.
    13. Know your strong and weak spots on offense and defense, know that there is a limit in each player on what they can and can not do, ‘that is very important to know for a team that wants to win a Title’.
    14. Keep the ball moving on offense and only look for INSIDE SHOTS UNDER THE HOOP, never try to win with jump shots and 3 pointers!
    15. Jump shots and 3 pointers will never win a Championship no matter how good your jump shot looks, keep ATTACKING THE BASKET, and PLAY ONLY UNDER THE HOOP, sooner or later, your opposing team’s Star Players will start getting in foul trouble, and you will get easy baskets at he FREE THROW line.
    16. Be calm and STAY CALM, every game is always stressful and makes every team angry.
    17. Don’t stop running, every second in the game counts!
    18. Play with trust in one another, positive mind-set, courage, and honesty.
    19. Play with the good kind of ‘aggressive aggression’, Box out hard when going for a rebound and make sure your opponent doesn’t get your rebound for their team to score. Play hard defense with your hands out!, use your body against his, not your arms or it will always be a foul! Attack the basket under the hoop will all your speed and strength, always look for under the hoop baskets, never go for jump shots or 3 pointers!
    20. Conclusion. Run in practice, and keep running in practice! Every second in the game counts. Never running or little bit running in practice will always give your opposing team easy under the hoop baskets! So easy, that they win because they ran. So keep running in practice, all that running WILL PAY IT OFF in the last seconds of the 4th Quarter, even if you win by 1! Winning by 1 is always better than winning by none!

    KEEP YOUR PLAYERS RUNNING IN PRACTICE, for the Gambell Coach’ advice.
    Running will pay it off in the last seconds of the last Quarter!
    Never stop running in practice!