Sokaitis resigns position as head basketball coach
Submitted by Scott
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After bringing the University of Alaska Fairbanks men's basketball program from the depths of Division II basketball to one of the premiere programs in the country, head coach Al Sokaitis is resigning. The 28-year coaching veteran made the announcement at a press conference today.
"It was a difficult decision for me to make, but after talking at length with my wife and my children, I have decided to step down as head coach at UAF," said Sokaitis. "The hardest part of all of this is leaving the players and the people who have meant so much to the program. The community support has been wonderful and greatly appreciated," said Sokaitis, who finished with 108 victories in eight years at UAF. "We have built the program into one of the top teams in the country and have set a new standard for Nanook basketball."
UAF Director of Athletics Dr. Cory Schwartz said, "Al has brought our program to a national level and has made Alaska Fairbanks one of the top basketball programs in Division II. His dedication to the program and the Fairbanks community has been terrific over the last eight years. Al has certainly set a standard for basketball coaches at UAF and his impact on this university is something we're grateful for. I am very appreciative of all that Al has done for our program and I wish him the best in his future endeavors."
After having just two winning seasons in the previous 15 years, UAF has become an annual contender for the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) and a regular participant in the NCAA Division II National Championship under Sokaitis' guidance. Over the last two seasons, the Nanooks are 43-15 overall and 27-9 in conference action. In 2002-03, the Nanooks finished 20-8 with an appearance in the national tournament and the 2002 BP Top of the World Classic Championship. The tournament title labeled UAF as the only Division II team in NCAA history to win a Division I tournament. Sokaitis had eight victories over Division I opponents.
This past season, Sokaitis guided the Nanooks to a 23-7 overall record and a Sweet 16 finish at the national championship. UAF set school marks for most wins in a season and most victories in the national tournament. The UAF mentor won his second consecutive GNAC Coach of the Year Award and junior Brad Oleson was named GNAC Player of the Year.
Sokaitis, who had four winning seasons with the Nanooks, guided the UAF to the GNAC championship in 2002-03 and to second-place finishes in 1999-2000 and 2003-04. He has also won National Coach of the Month Awards in 2000 and 2002. And success has been the foundation of Sokaitis' coaching career. He began his coaching career by posting an eight-year prep coaching record of 118-65 (.645). Taking over three high schools with a history of losing, Sokaitis guided E.O. Smith High School in Storrs, CT, Thompson Valley High School in Loveland, CO and Olympia High School in Olympia, Wash. to their respective state tournaments, winning the state championship with Olympia High School.
He began his collegiate coaching career as an assistant at Mitchell College before moving on to the University of California Davis and Division I powerhouse University of Washington. His first head-coaching job came at North Adams State College in MA where he led the Mohawks to three NCAA tournament appearances. Sokaitis moved on to Southern Maine where he led the Huskies to their first-ever conference title and two appearances in the national tournament. In nine years, he was 143-91.
Off the court, he has made a tremendous impact in Alaska. He has chaired the United Way Campaign in Fairbanks, served on the State Board of Directors for Special Olympics and established the highly successful REACH (Reach for Excellence through Academics, Competition and Humanity) Program, which has gone out to over 100 communities across the state. He won the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce Outstanding Contribution to Community Award in 2001.
The Nanook coach has also made an impact nationally and internationally. He has served as a clinician and speaker at 14 consecutive Division I Final Fours. He has also traveled to countries such as Greece, Lebanon and Japan to give clinics and work with touring national teams.
Sokaitis earned his bachelor's degree in 1976 from North Adams State College (MA) and his master's degree from Connecticut College in 1977. He also spent a tour of duty with the United States Army.
Sokaitis and his wife, Terri, have three children, Charlie, Sam and Amy.
The process for replacing Sokaitis is currently underway.