Becoming an elite player takes more than showing up for practice. It isn’t just hours spent in the gym. An elite player knows to adjust their mentality to become something special. We had the opportunity to interview three elite Alaskan players that have pushed the limit and reached some of the highest levels of their sport.
Dajonee Hale played for Houston High and graduated in 2013. After overcoming many devastating obstacles, she earned a full-ride scholarship and the NAIA player of the year award. Nene is now playing her second season as a professional in Bamberg, Germany for the DJK Basketball League, and continues to pursue her dreams of playing in the WNBA.
Pindo Drammeh, who graduated from Service High in 2015, also faced extreme adversity. From health conditions to starting late, Pindo had to persevere through many difficult circumstances. But with a tough journey comes the opportunity to share what helped him get through it. He’s now entering his first year of professional basketball in Germany.
Leya DePriest has been a star athlete from the beginning. But even in being successful, Leya has been through several school transfers and has played as a division I athlete. Having transferred high schools her sophomore year, she had to earn her way back to a solid position on her second team. Once graduated, Eastern Washington University offered its own obstacles, from balancing school and practice, to playing at a much higher level.
1. Do not focus on individual accolades or awards. Accolades will come when the whole team is having success.
For ex. If a player averages 20 ppg and their goal is to SCORE but their team is losing in conference - this player will not get any recognition because their drive is for themselves not the team. If a player averages 13 ppg and their goal is to WIN and their team is top in conference, the entire team will be recognized because they know how to win.
2. Know your role on the team. When a player is resistant to their role on the team, it can cause chaos within team chemistry. Whether you are the star, bench player, 6th man, caption, etc.
3. Watch film, do not focus on yourself. Focus on the team.
4. When a coach is talking to you, always make eye contact.
5. Always compete in every single practice. One day your season will be over and you’ll look back and wish you did more.
6. Play for a national title every single game!!
7. Be the loudest player in the gym. Talk on offense, talk on defense. Communicate with your hands (setting a screen or you need a screen), always let your teammates know where you are (in help defense). Call for the ball every single time.
8. Stay disciplined. Teams who are disciplined will show in the 4th quarter.
1. Keep your head in the books.
2. Stay committed to your craft.
3. Learn the importance of time management.
4. Have the ability to take criticism without getting upset.
“You must be willing to keep working even if you get discouraged and be resilient through criticism and negative things that people say. Having the ability to turn that into a positive I think is one of the biggest things that will help you excel as a player in whatever level you’re at.
There will always be people criticizing you, but at the end of the day, you have to understand that’s what’s making you better and you should try to implement those things into your game.
The second thing that has really helped me is understanding that you can get put in a role that you may not like, but you can always be a master in the role that you’re given. Make sure you’re valuable to the team in the way that your coach wants you to be. If you want to change your role, master the one you’ve been given and keep working as you aspire for more. Keep working on your game, or your attitude, whatever you need to work on, to become the player you want to be.
It was one of the hardest things I had to learn in college. I was given a lot of roles in my career, and I didn’t like a lot of them, but I was able to be positive throughout that time and create good relationships and good memories. Even though I didn’t do exactly what I wanted to do, it was still a good experience because I was a master in my role.
If you take that opportunity to work hard, be resilient, and have a good attitude you can output something beautiful.”
Alexia Novelli is a former player for the University of Alaska Anchorage. Originally from Anchorage, she played her first game of basketball in 8th grade at Hanshew Junior High. Her family moved to the Valley right before high school began and Alexia began her freshman year on the C Team at Colony High School. Developing into a varsity player, she left Alaska after graduation to continue her basketball career at SFCC, a junior college in Spokane. She had two double-doubles for the season; 22 points and 10 rebounds in a victory over Mt. Hood, and 18 points with 14 rebounds in a win over Columbia Basin. Alexia ended the season averaging double-digit points per game, led the starting lineup in shooting percentage, finished 2nd in rebounds and blocks, and earned a place as one of the team’s scholar-athletes.
Alexia decided coming home to play for UAA was her best option to develop as a player and to represent her home state. After two years, she joined the Wasilla High School coaching staff and in 2023 was named the new head basketball coach of Mountain City Christian Academy (formerly ACS). She hopes to inspire other Alaskan athletes to pursue their aspirations of competing in athletics beyond high school.