Sussex County History Today: Great Alaska Shootout

| 12 Nov 2023 | 05:42

I am pleased to provide another chapter in the continuing story of the career of one of Sussex County’s top athletes, the great basketball star Michael Ferrara from Franklin High School. “In his own words ... .”

- Bill Truran


In 1980-81, I have all three targets coming at me for the first time in the same year. The grand finale, so to speak. We have LSU the first game in Alaska and Vermont in mid-February and Niagara almost immediately following Vermont.

That spring 1980, I was studying everything I could find on the Russian Olympic team. They had very successful Olympic teams in 1980, and they all had implemented visualization into their training regimes and credited that technique to a lot of their athletic successes.

This was all new stuff back in 1980. I spent all spring studying that technique and, believe it or not, it wasn’t two to three weeks after I started that my game noticeably changed. I found myself all of a sudden much more consistent. I wasn’t having many off days.

As I was coming up, I was looking for any edge I could get, and noticing the results from practicing visualization, I was 100 percent sold. I continued to practice this technique every day for the rest of my career. Especially in the locker room a half-hour or so before all the games, starting with LSU.

When I got home in May 1980, this might as well be the start of real basketball boot camp for me. Since 1972, I worked very hard up until now, but this summer we turned it up a notch.

Between my training group of 20 to 30 guys or so in Sussex County and a similar training group just smaller with Dools in Rumson, I had serious guys to practice with.

That summer Dooley and I worked at five-star basketball camp together. We had great players there, Beaver Smith (St Johns), Jimmy Sweeny (BC), Dools (Richmond), Stevie Obrien (Bucknell) and the list goes on.

So, our counselor games at five-star at night were big time. At five-star that week was the first time that I experienced something strange happening to me while I was playing. I guess I was so consumed with what I had been trying to accomplish on the court for the last five to 10 years or so, that at five-star I triggered something inside me, and I remember it clearly playing out for the first time in those games.

For the first time ever, the game I was playing in all of a sudden appeared to be in slow motion in my eyes and brain. I was seeing everything happening basically in slow motion, and I could do anything I wanted to as I was moving at full speed. It was wild.

That feeling I had, I have heard it being described by great athletes in recent years as “the zone.” The nice thing about it, once it got triggered the first time with me, it kept getting triggered in games as long as I prepared correctly until the end of my career. What a special gift that was.

Not to mention that I had Stefkovich, Platukis, Paiva, Conroy and Dools available and willing to play/drill anytime/anywhere. So, in the summer of 1980, it was three sessions a day average, probably at least six hours a day on average.

I arrive back up at Colgate September 1981 at 218 pounds (my peak weight), not an ounce of fat on me, and a first step that no one can stop. So, what happened to the three targets?

LSU in November 1980, Great Alaska Shootout. We open with LSU, No. 2 in the country. This is the best tournament in the country other than the NCAA Final 16 and still is to this day. I remember in warm-ups having a relaxed nervousness. I knew I was in “the zone” already in the warm-ups.

I kept reminding myself I had 23 against them two years earlier - there will be no problems tonight. I don’t remember hearing anyone in the crowd. When we left the court to start the game, I was soaking wet and had to change my grey shirt under my jersey.

I knew this game/challenge was the key to my season/career. This is when the rubber meets the road. If I get shut down tonight by No. 2, I am done. I can write 10 pages on this game and the other two games, but I will cut right to the chase on all three.

They had three future NBA players on their starting team. I was guarded by Howard Carter (Denver Nuggets). With three minutes to go in the game, it was a four- to five-point game and we had them scared. We lost by about 10 to 13 fouling at the end. I ended with 29, which was the most points scored by any one player against LSU in the 1980-81 season.

After the game, Coach Dale Brown of LSU (who is my good friend and favorite college coach to this day) came into the Colgate locker room to meet me and personally speak with me. He has told me many times I am one of three players he ever did that with in 40-plus years of coaching.

I am humbled to even be mentioned in the same sentence with the other two players. To this day, he still tells me and introduces me to his buddies this way: “See this guy - we had no answer for him.”

As I said, there is so much here I can’t write due to space. I think what I am about to say sums that game performance up very well. I lived in Montana from 2002 to 2016. In 2014, Brown and three of his guys came out to visit me at my ranch and we had four great days together, all of us. I took a photo with Coach and his posse when we went to Animals of Montana outside Bozeman. You can see me and coach on the right side and that sort of sums our friendship up.

Then in 2015 he wanted me to come to LSU for an event as they were naming an arena in Baton Rouge after him. I went to this huge LSU event and had a blast. You would think I won him a national championship or something.

I got to see and visit with the guys I played against which was fun, met the Maravich family, Bob Petit and Shaq.

I am sure Shaq would remember taking a photo with me. It’s funny what a good jump shot can do for someone. I shared the above details just so there is no doubt I did what I set out to do four years earlier, even beyond my own expectations.

This was the most important college game of my college career. By the way, I set four records (two steals/two points) at the Great Alaska Shootout. One of which still stood a few years ago.

I returned from Alaska ranked the No. 1 Division I basketball player in Eastern Basketball magazine, which covered east of the Mississippi River/north of the state of Georgia. Plus I was player of the issue.

Mission accomplished in Alaska. A+ performance the entire tournament. One down, two to go.