There will never be another Brad Oleson and so it makes sense the UAF men’s basketball program will retire his No. 24 jersey.
His story of rags to riches is one for the ages, going from a high school kid out of North Pole who never made the all-state team to a two-time NCAA Division II All-American and world-class playmaker in the EuroLeague with several Spanish League teams.
Oleson stood just 6-foot-3 but was larger than life.
Between 2002 and 2005, he racked up a school record 1,883 career points and led the Nanooks to a 64-24 record, a Top of the World tournament title and a trip to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.
After Oleson helped UAF go 4-2 against archrival UAA, it’s fittingly that his jersey be retired against the Seawolves at halftime of Saturday’s matinee in the 111th all-time meeting between the two Alaska schools dating back to 1977.
“It’s definitely a special moment for me,” Oleson said. “I hope Fairbanks can fill the Patty Center up like the old days.”
A leader, a winner, a Nanook. Brad Oleson.
This Saturday, we’ll retire his #24 forever during the @nanooksmbb game!
— Alaska Nanooks (@AlaskaNanooks) January 24, 2023
In 2004, the city of North Pole declared April 24 Brad Oleson Day. Two decades later he will get another day in his honor as the UAF athletic department pays respect to the Hall of Famer.
“Being retired for a few years now, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my career and this is another huge achievement,” he said.
He’s piled up many achievements along the way, most notably winning MVP honors after leading the Nanooks to the 2002 Top of the World Classic when UAF beat Weber State 77-65 in the title game to become the first Division II men’s team in history to win an eight-team Division I men’s basketball tournament.
Oleson bagged 17 points, nine rebounds and five assists in the championship game in front of a crowd of 4,301 spectators at the Carlson Center.
“That was just special,” he said. “People still remind me of the ‘MVP, MVP, MVP’ chants 20 years later.”
In 2004, Oleson led UAF to back-to-back wins at the NCAA Tournament, first earning a 91-82 victory over Bakersfield, the all-time winningest Division II program (.713) and a seven-time West Region champion since 1990, and then racking up an 82-78 victory over San Bernardino to snap that team’s 33-game home winning streak.
Oleson came up big against San Bernardino by scoring 26 of his 30 points in the second half and overtime. He silenced the partisan crowd with many clutch shots, including a two-handed dunk and two 3-pointers early in overtime. He pointed toward the stands after each 3, drawing jeers from the hometown fans.
In 2005, he poured in a career-high 39 points in a 91-80 victory over UAA in front of a packed house in Fairbanks. The reigning GNAC Player of the Year drained 8-of-11 3-pointers on a night when he was hard to guard.
Oleson went on to play 10 years of pro ball in Spain, where he was a two-time Spanish League champion and between 2009 and 2017 played in 150 games in the EuroLeague and scored 918 points, ranking second all-time among Alaskans.
“I was just a kid with big dreams and wanted to play basketball for a living,” Oleson said. “One thing I’m most grateful for is the coaches that I had up there. Al Sokaitis and Frank Ostanik, two of the best at what they do. I don’t think they get enough credit for my success.”