At 11:30 a.m. on Thursday history will be made once again for new Southeast high school basketball power house Thunder Mountain as they face the Colony Knights in the ASAA State Basketball Championships at Anchorage’s Sullivan Arena.
“I smile every time I think we are going to state,” TMHS coach John Blasco said. “It is a great feeling.”
Fresh off of a 56-52 Region V Championship win over Juneau-Douglas and the 60-57 All-Southeast Title win over Mt. Edgecumbe High School, the Falcons (21-6) have learned to win in every conceivable way while recording school firsts in the programs young history.
“The kids play the game,” Blasco said. “I just try to put them in the best chance to win but they play the game. They are smart kids and have learned over the last three years how to compete. They coach themselves a lot.”
Mt. Edgecumbe does not feature a lot of height but are athletic and well coached and were playing on their home court.
“They are a tough team,” Blasco said. “I knew they would be good.”
Guard quickness gave the Braves baseline penetration and a 31-21 halftime lead, with 18 points coming from inside the key, 10 free throws scored and one triple.
“Clearly they were beating us off the dribble,” Blasco said. “So that was the biggest challenge, we had to adjust. We had been so focused on winning the region title the night before. You have to be ready to play every day.”
The Falcons recovered in the third quarter to trail by eight, 40-32 and put up 28 fourth quarter points in a shoot out to the finish.
“Defensive adjustments were what we learned in that final game,” Blasco said. “I think the Anchorage teams will be significantly faster than southeast region teams. We might not be able to play one on one with them but we will find ways to contain them.”
The Falcons slowed the game down against Dimond on the road for a win earlier in the season and they used that to be competitive against Lathrop.
“You have to play your opponent and see what is best for you,” Blasco said. “I don’t stall and I don’t plan to stall, it is not my style. But we will use discipline and patience. We understand when the right time to shoot is, or not.”
The next opponents at the state venue will all be fast and athletic and the Falcons’ first round matchup is one of the deadliest outside shooting clubs near the Anchorage city limits.
Thunder Mountain opens the state tournament against the second-seeded Colony Knights (20-6) at 11:30 a.m. Thursday. The Knights play in the Northern Lights Conference.
Third-seeded East (22-7) plays sixth-seed Palmer (16-10) on the Falcons side of the bracket also.
The state’s top ranked Service Cougars (27-2) will play the tournament’s eighth seed Dimond (17-10) on the opposite side of the tournament, along with fourth-seed Lathrop (17-8) challenging fifth-seed West (17-10).
“There are eight great teams at the tournament,” Blasco said. “Even the eight seed Dimond. Their conference is so tough. Everybody is a challenge. The kids have had some really great practices. They all understand the magnitude of the state tournament. We want to go up there and represent Juneau well. We have earned the trip and the guys are ready to go up there and prove we can compete.”
The Falcons will not be a surprise to teams at the state venue. TMHS’ two road swings north opened eyes in the regular season.
“We have to learn as much as we can about Colony,” Blasco said. “My understanding is that they have five kids that can score on the floor at all times, not a lot of high school teams do. We are going to have to figure out how to best match up.”
The Falcons success all season has been playing as a team, adapting to opponents on the court, and improving each game.
“Part of the reason for our success is we are so unselfish,” Blasco said. “We have to maintain that. The Tupou’s abilities to stay composed are a huge strength for us. My understanding is Colony has two 6-foot-4 guys and a 6-foot-5 and a strong point guard, and some kids who can run and block shots, and others who can just straight up shoot the ball.”
As for the Falcons, their strengths are just as credible.
“I think we are fairly balanced,” Blasco said. “Obviously our strength starts with our point guards. Their composure to get us into our offense is the important part. They understand who our weapons are.”
Anchorage’s Sullivan Arena is a fitting show case for the Falcons’ first ever trip to state championship basketball.
With two courts and seating that is easily three times more spacious than any venue in Southeast, and one that Blasco played in as a JDHS junior (1999) and senior (2000), the Sullivan is the high school sports mecca for Alaska youth.
“It is a real arena,” Blasco said. “You really have to adjust to that depth. You have to focus to find that rim. The court is bright and open and both ends of the main court are different. You have to block out the sounds from the second court. The kids are excited; they have never seen it before. We are going to go up and compete and enjoy the moment.”