The word bounced down the locker room corridors beneath the University of Alaska Anchorage basketball court after the Juneau-Douglas boys basketball team defeated Kenai 51-38 in the 4A state basketball championship’s fourth/sixth-place game on Saturday.
“Together,” JDHS senior guard Austin Shoemaker said as the players filed out of the gymnasium. “We played together. It was all about playing together. Getting each other shots. It was never about the individual.”
That theme was apparent as senior guard Tony Yadao scored 13 of the Crimson Bears first 15 points with no one-on-one sets.
“Together,” Yadao said outside the locker room. “We are all together. This is the first year that we have had such good team chemistry. We all bought into coach Robert Casperson’s system and that paid off for us. We knew this was our last game and gave it our all, and there are no regrets afterward.”
Yadao scored on an opening layup, off a screen, a steal, and all out of the offensive sets as the Crimson Bears opened a 15-10 first quarter advantage.
Shoemaker opened the second period with a put back and Alec Calloway scored two baskets in a row, the last on a no-look pass from Shoemaker, as JDHS pushed to a 21-12 advantage.
“Hard work, dedication and toughness,” senior guard Lance Ibesate said. “And together we achieved that.”
When Kenai hit two buckets to make a run Ibesate drained a deep three, Yadao fed Calloway underneath and Fenumiai followed a shot inside as JDHS slowly widened their lead to 29-20 at the half.
“A great year as we became a great family,” senior wing Alec Calloway said. “We became close friends. These guys are my family from now on.”
When Kenai made a surge in the third quarter it was senior center Evan Gross who challenged the Kardinals at the rim, blocking two shots in a row, part of his game-high six rejections. Gross sacrificed his scoring this season to be a defensive hub, pick setter and rebounder for the team.
“It was a great season and a good finish after four years,” Gross said. “It was nice to finish with a win, we haven’t done that in a while. This is a great group of kids and it has been really fun playing with them. We had a mindset, and it was coach Casperson’s philosophy, to stick together and I think we did that.”
The past three trips to state resulted in a final game loss. The 2012 Crimson Bears were not about to let that happen.
Leading 43-33 starting the final period the Crimson Bears gave coach Casperson his last grey hair of the season by letting Kenai get within eight points.
“They kind of got caught up in a frantic pace for a while,” Casperson said. “We took a time out and discussed that when the clock is running that is our friend, and when we have the ball the other team can’t score and we were going to work for lay ups and free throws the rest of the way.”
“When we have that much senior experience on the floor and waiting to come in off the bench you have guys that understand what we are talking about,” Casperson continued. “As a first year head coach I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to work with. They were very dedicated in the off-season and in their desire to improve. They are very positive individuals and very willing to do what we asked and had no complaints. They got after it and always encouraged each other. The senior class and the school can be very proud of their season. They set a high standard for the underclassmen to look up to.”
Then, together, the team flowed down court. Fenumiai followed a missed shot to score, Ibesate hit a free throw, Shoemaker hit two free throws Fenumiai hit another free throw and senior Ryan Kelly put a soft lay in off the glass.
“We worked hard and accomplished a lot to get fourth at state,” Kelly said. “We wanted more but this is a high seed overall.”
Yadao led the Crimson Bears with 16 points, Fenumiai and Ibesate nine apiece, Calloway eight, Shoemaker six, Kelly two and Gross one. Ibesate dished out a game-high six assists and Shoemaker pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds. JDHS outrebounded Kenai 36-25. The Crimson Bears hit 12-21 at the charity stripe, Kenai 10-16. Colton Hayes scored 16 points for the Kardinals, AJ Hull added 14, Bo Reilly four, Garrett Berg and Shane Spalding two apiece.
JDHS junior Jackson Lehnhart summed up his season as a lot of fun.
“The seniors were definitely with us all,” Lehnhart said. “It was together. You didn’t see the separation between classes that there can be, they were friends more than they were seniors.”
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