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Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Updated: February 20, 12:26 PM ET
Portland lands gifted recruit in Hannah Mattson

By Walter Villa
Special to espnW

Hannah Mattson
Hannah Mattson fights Alaskas brutal winters by lighting up the scoreboard for West Valley (Fairbanks) High School.

Last month, the University of Portland women's basketball coaches received an early Christmas present, and it came, fittingly enough, from very near the North Pole.

Hannah Mattson, a 5-foot-10 senior combo guard from West Valley (Fairbanks, Alaska), signed with the Pilots, who were thrilled to get the state's reigning Gatorade Player of the Year.

Mattson lives just 13 miles from the town of North Pole, a popular stop for tourists who come to see the "Santa Claus House," and streets with names such as Kris Kringle Drive, Santa Claus Lane and Snowman Lane.

"The light poles are made to look like candy canes," Mattson said. "It gets overbearing after a while."

Mattson doesn't mean to be a buzzkill. She's just logical, and she pointed out that the geographic, or "real," North Pole is 1,700 miles north of Fairbanks.

With a 4.33 GPA and designs on studying biology at Portland, Mattson takes the same analytical approach to basketball.

Last summer, when she and her Tree of Hope club team visited Seattle, Oregon City, Ore., Los Angeles and San Diego for a five-week stretch of tournaments and camps, Mattson took along an empty notebook.

By the time she got home, there were more than 20 pages worth of notes and diagrams.

"I'm a list person," Mattson said. "I wrote a bunch of bullet points to myself like 'make sure you attack the basket' and 'hunt the paint.'

"And if I did a drill that I liked at a camp, I would diagram it in my notebook and do it with my coach when I [got] home."

Hannah Mattson
As a junior, Hannah Mattson averaged 15.4 points and 7.2 rebounds en route to a berth in the 4A state title game.

Mattson said she spends a majority of her day thinking, practicing, talking or playing basketball.

"She would play 24/7 if she could," said Steve Caciari, her coach at West Valley.

Caciari said Mattson is unique among his players in that she will sit in the front of the team bus with him so she can go over strategy for that night's game.

And, as Caciari pointed out, Alaska is a "spread-out place," meaning long road trips and lots of time to go over the playbook.

"Most kids want to hang out in the back and talk about movies," the coach said. "But Hannah wants to figure out how to win games. She will then relay that information to her teammates."

The plan has worked exceptionally well so far. Mattson averaged 15.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 3.3 steals per game last season, leading West Valley to a 25-4 record and a berth in the Class 4A title game.

And even though the Wolf Pack lost 56-33 to Wasilla, it was West Valley's first appearance in a girls' basketball state final.

Mattson's play last summer with her club team drew 11 Division I offers. Besides Portland, she visited Nevada-Reno, Seattle Pacific, Colorado State and Denver.

Portland's coaches had just one scholarship available, and they were looking for a guard with the versatility to be able to play the point or a wing.

Pilots head coach Jim Sollars and assistant Sean Kelly had heard good things about Mattson, and once they saw her play, they knew they had their combo guard.

Kids here tend to be pretty self-sufficient. They learn to pack a survival kit in the winter because if you take a wrong turn, they wont find you until spring.

-- West Valley coach Steve Caciari

Now all they had to do was convince her.

"We loved her ability to shoot," Kelly said. "Her work ethic amazed me, and we liked how she interacted with her teammates. She can compete for a starting job next season -- that's how highly we think of her.

"So we followed her from Oregon to the tournaments in Seattle and Los Angeles. We knew we wanted her. It was more of showing her we wanted her to be in our program."

Portland offered her a scholarship, but Mattson did not accept right away. She wanted to take all her visits first.

When she finally did say yes, she became the first West Valley girls' basketball player to get a Division I scholarship since the school opened in 1975.

She is also the first player from an interior Alaska school to get a Division I women's basketball scholarship since Melissa Rima of Monroe Catholic (Fairbanks) signed with Boise State in 2007.

Mattson has good athletic genes. Her mother played college basketball at Ferris State, her father played college football at Valparaiso and her sister, Rose, played college volleyball at Pacific Lutheran.

Caciari said Portland is getting not just an intelligent student and a talented athlete with good bloodlines, but someone who is mentally tough.

"It is 33 degrees below [zero] right now," the coach said. "Kids here tend to be pretty self-sufficient. They learn to pack a survival kit in the winter because if you take a wrong turn, they won't find you until spring."

Mattson, who has no cable television in her house, said athletes in Alaska know how to survive outdoors and they learn how to pack because of all the long road trips.

"We may not be as street smart as the kids in the lower 48," she said, "but you learn how to take care of yourself."