The holidays come to life on the basketball court of Juneau-Douglas High School beginning today.
The 22nd Annual Capital City Classic-Princess Cruises Basketball Tournament, back after a one-year hiatus, has produced some magical performances over the years and is a place for community winter gathering.
“The most fun of it all, my biggest memory, would probably be just how packed the gym was,” Thunder Mountain girls head coach Tanya Nizich said. “Standing room only for both the guys and the girls games.”
Nizich, who graduated from JDHS in 2000, played in four classic’s tournaments.
Seattle dynasty Garfield High School, California powerhouse Edison, Nampa (ID.), Australia... the CCC was the finest tournament in Alaska, if not the Pacific Northwest.
“We had all out-of-state teams come in for it every year,” Nizich said. “The competitiveness of those teams and we, the JD boys and girls, weren’t extremely powerful. It was a battle. I have not seen standing room only for a long time at high school games. It was just solid in the gym. Those are my best memories, there is no other better way to play than for a packed house.”
Nizich and the Crimson Bears won the tourney each of her four years and claimed the MVP trophy in 1999.
JDHS girls coach Dee Boster played in the tourney in 1985 as a member of the Prairie High School Falcons team from Brush Prairie near Vancouver, Washington, back before the classic took the Capital City moniker.
“I remember going to the Chapel By The Lake,” Boster said. “I remember going to the glacier. I remember this gym and I remember it being cold. But I remember most liking it because I met a whole bunch of people. It was a really cool experience.”
That experience included Boster’s first airplane trip, which still happens for some visiting squads.
JDHS boy’s coach Robert Casperson played in the tournament from 1993-95.
“One of the really cool things was playing those teams from down south,” Casperson said. “Just that complete unknown. And I remember that the teams from California would just rave about the snowball fight they had at the glacier, because they are not used to that.”
According to Casperson, the Capital City Classic came about when one of the JDHS squads in the late 80’s became weathered out of Juneau and stuck in Seattle, missing the holidays.
“It was in order to keep our kids home and provide safe and family fun entertainment over the Christmas break,” Casperson said. “It brought the alumni in to watch and became a community event.”
Last year’s bad economy forced multiple teams from down south to drop out of the tournament and has begun a long process to attract out of state competition. A team from Seattle, for instance, may have to fund raise for over three years just to afford the airfare involved. A team from California even longer. But when the teams arrive, the games become monumental.
JDHS alum Carlos Boozer, now with the Chicago Bulls, helped teammate Casperson win a title in his senior year by picking up a loose ball and laying it in with three seconds remaining over Washington’s Garfield High School.
Garfield, the defending 4A state champion, featured former Portland Trailblazer (now Minnesota Timberwolves) Brandon Roy (then a sophomore) and battled JDHS in the title game.
Referee Mike Kelly stated that the crowd was so noisy he was afraid no one would hear the official’s whistles.
“The gym would be packed an hour before the game,” Casperson said. “And I believe that was Garfield’s only loss that year. That was a talented group for Juneau, outside of Boozer.”
It could be the fans, delirious on coffee and coco and straight off the cold December streets.
It could be the student body, with their painted chests and alumni attending.
It could be the spirit of the award winning Juneau Dance Team, the top notch JDHS Cheer and Stunt team or the loud and proud JDHS Pep Band (all will perform at the JDHS games in the tourney).
Whatever it is, the Capital City Classic will provide it.
In 1997, when Nizich was a sophomore, senior Caroline Gruening was a late-game hero in wins over Burroughs (Calif.), Lakeside (Wash.) and then Castro Valley (Calif.) in the title game. Nizich scored 14 points in the title, Gruening scored 13 and garnished the MVP. Both made all tourney along with senior Kiersten Smith and junior Christina Capacci.
In that year Boozer, Dan Baxter, James Wilson and Robert Ridgeway were key in leading the Crimson Bears to the title over Kent-Meridian (Wash.)
Boozer would win the slam-dunk competition and Wilson the 3-point contest.
Those events will be featured on Friday this year as well, starting at 11 a.m. The contests are never a given by just the starting five.
In 2000, JDHS team manager Aaron Larson, a 6’5 towel and beverage dispenser, won the free-throw competition. Larson did it in style too, defeating the previous year’s winner, JDHS star Curtis Lane. Lane would get revenge by winning the three-point long ball contest. JDHS’ Kacie Murphy won for the girls and senior point guard Courtney Mason won the long ball contest. Kentlake’s (Wash.) Kenny Jackson won the slam-dunk competition.
This years tournament has an all-Alaskan look to it but the teams are still relatively unseen by many local sporting fans.
On the girl’s side, the 3A Anchorage Christian Lady Lions have nine players returning from their state playoff team of last season and seniors Sarah Geagel and Samatha Busse will be a hand full.
East Anchorage is fresh off a third place win over Kenai in their T-Bird Classic. Senior Togafitti Manu is a scoring machine and sophomore six-footer Taria Page is a power rebounder. Junior Dajah Motuga is a defensive wiz and leads the team in steals and assists. The T-Birds are straight up athletic.
Sitka lost the state 3A championship last season. The Wolves swept TMHS earlier this year. They feature no seniors and battle like they have a roster full of them.
The JDHS girls will have the crowd behind them. The Crimson Bears are finally starting to gel from the end of last season and through an 0-4 road trip up north. With the inside strength of Gabi Fenumiai, the all around play of Esra Siddeek and the quick backcourt leadership of Marissa Brakes they could turn that record around.
“It is an unknown,” Boster said. “It is three teams that are unknown, really, that we haven’t played before. That is exciting. You get to see new people, new ideas, and the game is different.”
On the boy’s side, East Anchorage is fresh off a 58-51 title win over Kodiak in the 2012 Powerade Al Howard Tip-Off Basketball Tournament. The T-Birds also beat Bethel 53-50. With five seniors taller than six-foot and six juniors that approach that mark, this squad is very athletic.
West Valley features all-around athlete Larenzo Graham who tallied 17 points, six rebounds and eight steals against powerful valley team Wasilla last week. Point guard Charles Suddeth is a key factor for the Wolfpack, as are Caleb Rowles, Simeon Ng and Daniel Remington off the bench.
The Sitka boys are tall by 3A standards (and defending region champs) and juniors Brian Way (6’5), Kendrick Payton (6’5) and AJ Inman (6’3) will battle on the boards to get the ball into the hands of their playmaker, senior Jon De La Cruz.
The JDHS boys showed they could compete with an athletic team in two losses to West Anchorage. They have scoring talent in senior Keith Ainsworth and sophomore Adam Empson, inside play from seniors Jeff Pusich, Gary Speck and sophomore Bruce Jones, plus a supporting cast that knows how to compete.
“From a fan’s perspective it is exciting,” Casperson said. “They get to watch team’s play their butts off. But they also get to see the championship cheer team and the championship drill team. There are so many positive youth activities the fans will get to see during the tournament.”
Continued Casperson, “We operate this tournament out of the red. We really appreciate the fan support because that helps us cover the costs and helps us try to break even.”
Now with two high schools, the Capital City Classic still searches for outside teams.
“We have never really talked about getting Thunder Mountain in the Classic,” Nizich said. “We haven’t really been offered an invite but we have our own winter tournament and, quite frankly, we play JD during the season. We understand the allure of playing out of town teams. I will be going to watch.”
This year the Falcons girls will host North Pole, Mt. Edgecumbe and Kotzebue in the Thunder Dome Tournament on Jan. 10-12. The Falcons’ boys could not find a tourney field and will travel to Anchorage.
The Game and event schedule for the Capital City Classic is on page B2 in the At Home box and as follow:
Today - 10:00 AM Tour of Juneau / 12:00 PM Coaches Meeting JDHS Gym / Session One, 1PM Anchorage Christian v East Anchorage Girls / 3PM West Valley v East Anchorage Boys / Session Two, 5PM JDHS v Sitka Girls / 7PM JDHS v Sitka Boys.
Friday December 28 - 11AM Shooting Contest / Session Three, 1PM East Anchorage v Sitka Girls / 3PM East Anchoarge v Sitka Boys / Session Four, 5PM JDHS v Anchorage Christian Girls/ 7PM JDHS v West Valley Boys
Saturday December 29 - 10AM Banquet Brunch in commons/ Session Five, 1PM Sitka v Anchorage Christian Girls / 3PM Sitka v West Valley Boys / Session Six, 5PM JDHS v East Anchorage Girls / 7PM JDHS v East Anchorage Boys / 8:30PM Awards / 9PM Dance.
Tournament pass for $30 gets fans in for every session. Individual pricing is $7 for adults per session; $5 for middle/high/college student with ID per session; $3 senior citizen/youth (6 years - 5th grade); children 5 years and under are free. Evening games will have half-time entertainment by the Juneau-Douglas High School Dance Team.