Soldotna High School senior Jersey Truesdell capped a decorated prep career by committing to the University of Alaska Fairbanks basketball program Thursday.
Truesdell, who has a 4.0 grade-point average, said a mix of academic scholarships, athletic money and the benefits of in-state tuition should take care of most of his college costs.
“I’ll come out pretty clean,” he said. “I might have some stuff to pay for, but I’ll be pretty well off.”
Truesdell, the son of Skyview Middle School principal Sarge Truesdell and SoHi teacher Heather Swanson, said the electrical engineering program and staying relatively close to home were big draws for UAF.
“I’ve always been a big math and science guy, so I’m interested in electrical engineering,” he said. “The tuition is obviously pretty attractive. It’s a car ride away from home and I don’t have to fly.”
Truesdell also said he had a good feel for the Division II UAF program, mainly based on his relationship with associate head coach Jesse Brown. Truesdell said he got to know Brown at a University of Alaska Anchorage skills camp three years ago, when Brown still worked at UAA.
“I’m glad I found a school I really wanted play for, a family I’ll be able to join,” Truesdell said.
The 6-foot-0 guard leaves a legacy in both football and basketball for the Stars.
In basketball, he scored 1,189 points, made 209 3-pointers and had 259 assists. Truesdell played some varsity his freshman year, then was on varsity every year after that. He was MVP of the team as a sophomore and junior, and SoHi basketball coach Nolan Rose said Truesdell will be MVP again this year.
Truesdell also was an all-Northern Lights Conference and all-state performer as a junior. Truesdell was named all-NLC again Monday and Rose said he also should get all-state honors again.
With the Northern Lights Conference and Class 4A state basketball tournaments being canceled due to the new coronavirus, Truesdell doesn’t get a chance to follow up on his performance at state last season, when he scored a total of 82 points in three state tournament games. That includes 30 in a first round defeat of West and 31 in a semifinal loss to Ketchikan.
“He has an amazing confidence about himself that I think is born out of a lot of hard work and dedication to being a great athlete,” Rose said. “Whether it’s football or basketball, he’s a guy that put in all the extra time. He’s an extremely committed kid.”
One of the areas that work shows up is in Truesdell’s jumpshot. Rose called Truesdell the best shooter in the state.
“He has that natural sense of how to shoot the basketball,” Rose said. “I’ve never talked mechanics with him, ever. He definitely put in reps in the offseason and got a lot of shots up. He’s done the work.”
Truesdell said one of the favorite pieces of advice he got from football coach Galen Brantley Jr. is to leave something better than you found it. Truesdell said he took that to heart starting in sixth grade, when he realized Soldotna High School could do something special in basketball with the players that were in the pipeline.
“Him and Ray Chumley, from day one as freshmen, did a lot of encouraging other guys to put in the work too,” Rose said. “A lot of the team’s success came not only from the top guys, but from the role players. That’s what led to us turning things around as a program.”
The success that Truesdell and Chumley had achieving buy-in was shown by the nine seniors that were on the team that had their season cut short.
In football, Truesdell joined a successful program and helped keep it humming, winning state titles in all four of those years. Truesdell was the starting quarterback for three of those years, finishing with a 19-1 record as starting quarterback.
Brantley Jr. knows Truesdell extremely well. Brantley Jr. returned to Soldotna in 2002 and was an assistant coach to Sarge Truesdell. At the time, Brantley Jr.’s son, Galen III, and Jersey were a year old. There are pictures of both children running around at SoHi football practices at 2 and 3 years old.
“He’s a tremendous young man,” Brantley Jr. said. “I couldn’t be prouder — watching him develop from a small child into the guy he is today.”
Jersey had Sarge as his coach throughout Pop Warner, so he ran the SoHi offense nearly his entire life. Brantley Jr. — due to his son missing the age cutoff by just one day — also helped coach Jersey every other year.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had another quarterback with as much experience in it,” Brantley Jr. said of the SoHi offense.
The SoHi coach said Truesdell knew the offense so well that Brantley Jr. was able install audibles. Truesdell got SoHi into the right play nearly every time and was a lethal passer and runner.
“He’s not the fastest kid, not the strongest kid, not the shiftiest kid,” Brantley Jr. said. “He’s the guy you would go into the gym — pickleball, badminton, whatever you take out of the closet, he’s going to beat you at it. He has a gym rat quality to him and that’s what makes him so versatile.”
So how did Truesdell choose to play basketball in college and not football?
“In our junior year, we made a run at state and that made it clear to me where my passions were,” Truesdell said. “I still loved football, but I could tell after my junior year of basketball, that’s the route I wanted to go.”
Truesdell said he sees a role for himself on a UAF team that will feature Shadeed Shabazz, who this year as a junior earned Great Northwest Athletic Conference Player and Newcomer of the Year and shared Defensive Player of the Year.
“Every college team needs to space the floor, and you get that with shooters,” Truesdell said. “One of the best guards in the nation will be back for his senior year, so spacing the floor for the things he does will be an immediate impact of my skill set.”
Now that Truesdell can work on basketball full-time, one area on which he will focus is defense. He said that playing 32 minutes a game meant he didn’t draw the toughest defensive assignments in high school.
“I’m just looking forward to another journey, the opportunity to go and be the young guy on a new team and having to earn my way,” Truesdell said. “Being the best player is always fun — I love being able to compete at that high level and play all 32 minutes. It’s also fun when you have to earn your spot based on hard work.”