The most anticipated high school basketball matchup of the season for local Juneau fans takes place tonight and Saturday at the Juneau-Douglas High School gym as the Crimson Bears’ boys host the Thunder Mountain Falcons.
Juneau-Douglas (5-9 overall, 1-1 conference) and Thunder Mountain (7-5, 1-1) have a chance to take the conference lead or grab a share of it with Ketchikan (6-10, 2-2). The Falcons beat Ketchikan three times this season, although one win was taken away due to a player participating in more quarters than allowed.
On paper this is supposed to be TMHS’ year. JDHS has split with the Kings.
“Everybody views it differently,” TMHS coach John Blasco said. “It is easy to get overly hyped up for this game. It is a conference game, it is the in-town rival, and obviously a team we have not beat. It is an important game, but in my view we are just approaching it as another game with a game plan and preparation just as we would with any other team. Nothing is different.”
For the Falcons’ seniors, this is their last chance to get a first-ever varsity win over JDHS in the Crimson Bears home den.
For the Crimson Bears’ seniors, it is a “not on our watch” moment.
“These kids grew up playing basketball with and against each other their whole careers,” JDHS coach Robert Casperson said. “When you bring the schools together like this, it brings the community together. I think some of my fondest memories in high school were playing in front of a packed house here.”
The Falcons have not played in three weeks.
“You have to be confident,” Blasco said. “If you are not a confident person on a team you are not going to be successful. People have said we have had a heck of a season, but there is a lot more of the season to go. We prepare for JD like we prepare for anybody. You study film, you break down your opponent and you figure out the best game plan that gives you the opportunity to win.”
JDHS has been up and down this season. That was evident in last Friday’s 49-42 double overtime win at Ketchikan. In that game the Crimson Bears did not score a point in the second quarter and racked up 26 points in the third quarter.
The Crimson Bears have played their last nine games on the road and are glad to be playing at home.
“We are certainly road tested and the guys are excited to be back playing in front of their home crowd,” Casperson said. “Thunder Mountain is bringing a lot of experience. I would be absolutely shocked if we had any issues with effort. I am happy for Blasco, he has worked hard to get his team in the position they are in.”
Home crowds were cut in half for both schools four years ago; now the division rematches fill the bleachers.
“JD has the ability to press full court and either speed the game up or slow it down,” Blasco said. “Hopefully on Friday our layoff hasn’t made us rusty.”
Both teams like to attack the rim and hit the boards.
Both have been getting more comfortable with their teammates and reaching a higher fitness level.
Both have made rebounding a primary focus in recent weeks.
While neither coach would comment on a starting five, both teams have combinations of players that can affect the game.
JDHS’ Aquino Brinson and Keith Ainsworth are quick at the guard positions and like to get to the rim, Jeffrey Pusich and Gary Speck have a nose for the ball, Adam Empson does not play like a sophomore. Bruce Jones and Nathan Klein can impact the game inside and Jackson Lehnhart and Dar Hodge-Campos outside.
TMHS’ Vili and Josh Tupou are solid physical ball handlers, Matt Seymour is a scorer, Ty Grussendorf likes to shoot the three ball, Sam and Ben Jahn are aggressive inside players and Jacob Calloway is far beyond sophomore talent. Travis Johnson can influence inside and Mike Uddipa outside.
“Everybody wants to win right away,” Blasco said. “It took me a while to realize that you are building a program and you are not necessarily going to win right away. You have to find systems that work and get the guys to buy into it and get them comfortable playing with each other. It has taken some time.”
Said Casperson, “One of the only reasons someone is not inside our gymnasium tonight is pretty simple... they must not be a fan of basketball.
Both boys’ games on Friday and Saturday start at 8 p.m. The JDHS girl’s host the Colony Knights both nights at 6:15 p.m.