The Juneau Douglas Crimson Bears boys are ranked first in the Southeast Conference and fourth in the state. Their next opponent was ranked 14th. In the nation, as in, the United States of America, as in, anywhere someone can put up a hoop and toss the rock through it.
“It would have been a fun time,” JDHS coach Robert Casperson said of the Crimson Bears’ original first round match up in the 8th annual Alaska Airlines Classic 2012 Basketball Tournament at West Anchorage High School. “We were looking forward to it. We still are. The field is phenomenal.”
On Thursday the Crimson Bears were scheduled to play Arlington County Day from Jacksonville, Florida, the 14th best high school basketball team in Obama’s world according to major sports ranking organizations such as Five Star Basketball, ESPN, and Max Preps, among others. Their ranking has been noted as far down as 37th in the nation.
The ACD Apaches feature two players 6-foot-8 and inch their way down to the smallest at 6-foot-2. They have six Division I scholarship athletes ready to receive a free education due to their ability to play the game of basketball better than most junior college athletes and many top college prospects.
Unfortunately, according to tournament director C. David Williamson, the West High School athletic director, ACD pulled out of the tournament on Monday.
Williamson said they received an email message from head coach Rex Morgan stating, “due to unforeseen circumstances” his team would be unable to participate.
Williamson said they spent hours trying to contact ACD. They finally reached the school’s principal who said he was unaware of the basketball teams plans and stated, “They operate their affairs separately, and independently, from the rest of the schools activities.”
The ACD athletic director is also the coach. The assistant principal refused to interrupt the team’s practice to inquire about the canceled trip to Alaska.
“Of course we are disappointed about them pulling out,” Casperson said. “We will play anybody anytime.”
In fact, the replacement team for the tournament just happens to be the defending champions from last year. They just happen to be ranked in the top 10 of the second biggest state. They just happen to have a top 50 national caliber roster.
“We made one phone call,” Williamson said. “And Christian Life from Texas were delighted to return to the tournament. I have to give kudos to them, and major kudos to the very fine people at Alaska Airlines who worked closely with the administration at West to make all of the ticket changes in an expedient manner. We are indebted to them.”
The Crimson Bears now face the Cougars from Christian Life Center in Humble, Texas. They feature 6-foot-9 power forward Joe Burton. Burton has been getting mail from prospective colleges seeking his skills. Burton is just a sophomore. The team returns six players who traveled to Alaska last year. One is 6-foot-10 center Mike Lewis, another is 6-foot-2 deadeye Josh Gray, and another is 5-foot-9 captain P J Hardwick. All have major colleges ringing their doorbells.
“We obviously have to pay attention to any opponents abilities and tendencies,” Casperson said. “But this is just a great opportunity to see some high-caliber competition and see how we stack up. See what we need to work on and move forward.”
If the Crimson Bears get past Cougars, there is the small task of a possible meeting with another team that used that same motto when contacting Williamson, the Mt. Zion Christian Academy Warriors from Durham, North Carolina.
Or JDHS may move on to play the East Hall Vikings from Gainesville, Georgia, or the defending Alaska state champion Bartlett Golden Bears or state runner-up West Thunderbirds, the tournament host.
Mt. Zion is noted for NBA alumni Tracy McGrady, Brandon Rush, Marquis Daniels and Amare’e Stoudemire and feature 6-foot-11 Tobe Okafor this season. Year in and year out they play one of the most difficult schedules in the nation.
East Hall is noted for winning the past three Georgia state titles in their division, one of the most competitive in the state, and travel to multiple prestigious tournaments each year. They have multiple players being recruited by division one colleges in both basketball and football. Two of last seasons graduates are playing at Georgia and Georgia Tech.
Bartlett and West reload each season with some of the Anchorage area’s best talent and have strong senior guards this season. Kodiak and Delta Junction are also at the tourney. It is expected that West’s entire student body, over 2,000 students, will be watching their first game against Delta.
“I think it is going to be a good experience for the team,” JDHS senior Alec Calloway said. “And for everyone individually. I am excited to get on the court with some of these teams. We just want to show that we can play against teams we have never seen before and play hard and come out with W’s. We just get in the right mindset to play, get ready to play, and think we are going to win the game from the very beginning.”
The tournament teams will also be treated to an Alaska Heritage class at West, visit museums and get to experience the outdoors, temperature and weather permitting.
East Hall coach Joe Dix stated that 11 of his players have never flown before and only one member of the coaching staff has. The trip is over 3,400 miles, a bit longer than previous years where the longest trip for game time was just a 50-minute flight away. An additional 40 fans are traveling with the team because it is “The trip of a lifetime.”
“It will be more than just a basketball tournament,” Dix said on Tuesday. “And the kids are excited to go. It is a once in a lifetime experience. Most of the players have never been far from this rural area. I think one of my coaches took a cruise to Alaska once. We are looking forward to the cultural experience and how it will help us develop as a basketball team.”
Dix stated they don’t see much snow.
“We have a dusting and everything shuts down,” Dix said. “You guys still wear shorts. We have talked daily about the trip with the kids and we still know we will not be prepared for the weather. We are hoping we have the right gear for that climate. We don’t want to be indoors the whole time, but man, the weather channel is scary right now showing all that snow in Cordova. We are reassuring the kids that Anchorage is 150 miles away from there. The talk of the town here is about our team going up to Alaska.”
The appeal of a match up between Alaska preps and ‘down south’ preps has dated back to when East High School’s 6-foot-3 guard Trajan Langdon led his Thunderbirds to a near upset of the nation’s top team at the time, Oak Hill Academy, from Mouth of Wilson Virginia, and their 6-foot-four superstar Jeff McInnis.
Langdon went on to play at Duke University, McInnis to the University of North Carolina. Langdon went on to play professionally for the Cleveland Cavaliers then on to win championships or honors with Italian League club Benetton Treviso, Turkish League club Efes Pilsen, and Russian League clubs Dynamo Moscow and CSKA Moscow; McInnis went on to play for the Denver Nuggets, Washington Wizards, Los Angeles Clippers, New Jersey Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Portland Trail Blazers, Charlotte Bobcats, in Greece and in the CBA.
Even JDHS coach Casperson played in a tourney field with Science Hill from Johnson City, TN, and St. Raymond’s from Bronx, NY.
“It is a one in a lifetime opportunity,” Casperson said. “Our guys may never experience this again. We just hope to play as hard as we can and execute the things we have been working on in practice at a high enough level to come away with a few wins. I can’t imagine our group of guys will back down from anybody. From what I have seen in practice so far, I would expect this team to play as hard if they were up 20 as if they were down 20. That is just how our practices have gone. They just enjoy playing and getting after it.”
Said Williamson, “We started the tradition with Juneau a few years ago and are very pleased to continue it as part of the tournament. I have a gut feeling that Juneau is going to do very well this year with a strong chance to contend for the title. I wish the Bears the best of luck.”
Play begins Thursday as West opens against Delta at 12:45 p.m., Juneau plays Christian Life at 2:30, Bartlett faces Mt. Zion at 6 p.m., and Kodiak plays East Hall at 7:30 p.m.
The JDHS girls play West Valley tonight at JDHS gym, while the TMHS boys and girls await the Thunder Dome tourney to begin at TMHS Thursday.