Brad Oleson's hometown in Alaska was named North Pole for a good reason. Winter rules there, with centigrade temperatures of 20 below zero annually and an all-time record of 55 below. And in a town that has a Santa Claus Lane and candy-cane streetlights, April 24 of every year is Brad Oleson Day, named for a native son and the Turkish Airlines Euroleague player for FC Barcelona. The 31-year old shooting guard is currently in his fifth Euroleague season, and he is not the first player from Alaska to play in the competition. In fact, he is trying to become the third player coming from that US State, after former champions Trajan Langdon and Doron Perkins, to reach the Euroleague Final Four.
Barcelona holds an 11-0 record and is one win away from locking up first place in Group E, and Oleson has contributed in a big way to this success as the team’s second best three-point shooter during the Top 16, behind only the great Juan Carlos Navarro. Shooting behind the arc with 44% accuracy, Oleson has made at least one triple in 12 of the 13 games he’s played this season and is averaging 9.1 points per game. With those numbers, one can see how Oleson is blessed to not only be winning, to have escaped to sunny Barcelona from all that year-round snow back home.
“Alaska is a pretty unique weather-wise. It can get from anywhere from below 50 on any given day, or below 20 on a normal day. People think it is nice weather if you get zero degrees during the winters.” However, Oleson busted the myth that Alaska is covered in snow the entire year. “In the interior of Alaska we get all day sunlight pretty much the whole summer. We get about seven months of snow cover, but then summers are pretty nice which people don’t realize.”
When growing up, there were days when it was too cold to play basketball outdoors, but nothing that Oleson and his friends could not get around. “When you are a kid you find a way. If you love basketball, you put your gloves on, you put your boots on, and you play on top of the snow. When it gets a little warmer, the ice starts melting, shovel the driveway off and start playing”, Oleson explained. “Ball might get a little wet, but you gotta deal with what you have.”
Playing in the driveway with his family is one of the first basketball memories Oleson has, and is the start of the journey that got him to where he is today. Oleson joined Barcelona in the second part of last season, after four years with Laboral Kutxa Vitoria, where he arrived from Spanish second division side Rosalia.
Naturally the standard bearers for Alaskans in European basketball are players that Oleson kept an eye on. “I followed Langdon’s and Perkins’s career pretty closely. Those guys I’ve been watching my whole career and I was honored to play in Euroleague with those guys.”
Oleson still wants to get where those two have been; Langdon won the Euroleague twice with CSKA, and Perkins was a member of Olympiacos Piraeus when it lifted the Euroleague crown last season. However, Oleson has an honor of different sorts. As a local basketball star, he led nearby University of Alaska Fairbanks – nicknamed the Nanooks for a local Indian tribe – to its best season ever and was twice named the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Player of the Year. Perhaps his biggest accomplishment was leading the Nanooks to the title in the Top of the World Classic, a tournament his school hosted with much larger and higher-ranked teams competing. That led to Oleson getting his own day in his hometown.
“Back in college we played for a Division II college, and we hosted a Division I tournament, and we are the only Division II team in history to win a Division I tournament. And I was the tournament MVP,” Oleson remembered. “That’s how I started to get recognized by the Mayor of North Pole. He decided to run a proclamation and make a Brad Oleson Day on April 24, and I think he did it [on that day] because I wore number 24. But I never asked him about it.”
Having your own day is not something many people on this planet, let alone basketball players in the Euroleague, have been honored with. “Obviously, it is good for my family. People laugh about it, but when my career is over it will be great to look back on”, Oleson laughed and explained. “You don’t really do anything for Brad Oleson Day. It is just a proclamation they honored, and it is fun to joke around.”
This year on April 24, Oleson hopes to have a reason to celebrate his day, perhaps already with a Final Four ticket in his pocket.