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The past week was good to the local prep basketball teams from Juneau-Douglas high School as both won their respective brackets of the 20th Annual Princess Cruises Capital City Classic.
The boys’ team made it to the de facto championship game of the round-robin tournament with little resistance from outmanned 2A Hoonah — a late addition after a team from Los Angeles backed out — and defending 3A state champion Haines.
JDHS managed to defeat West Valley by five points on the tournament’s final day without three key players who were out of town to play in an All-Star football game,
The defending 4A state champion girls, on the other hand, had a few obstacles to overcome. The Crimson Bears put on a clinic on Monday against South Anchorage, annihilating the Wolverines 76-17 in one of the most dominant performances I’ve ever seen in a prep basketball game. Simply put, it was stunning.
But it didn’t come without cost.
All-State point guard Karli Brakes suffered a badly sprained ankle, and JDHS needed overtime the next night to defeat Crescent Valley (Ore.).
The game wasn’t pretty for long stretches, but the finish sure was fantastic. The Crimson Bears then went out and defeated an Australian club team with relative ease to claim their second straight Classic title, winning their fifth straight tournament in doing so, dating back to last season
Here are few notes about what we saw.
For me, there’s just something about teams that get after it defensively that I really appreciate. It’s a sign of good coaching, competitive fire and a burning desire to be better than just good. Good teams coast along. Great teams don’t have to rely on offense and talent alone to win.
Off night shooting the ball? Scoring drought? Key player out for a game or two with an injury?
No worries. We know we can still play defense. They might score on us, but nothing will come easy.
Great defensive teams want to rattle you and then step on your neck when they know they’ve taken your heart, figuratively speaking, of course.
Last year at this time I wrote a column suggesting the Crimson Bears could win a few more tournaments if they continued to play the type of defense they had in the Capital City Classic.
They won three more tourneys that year, including the one that ended with a 4A state championship.
Juneau-Douglas suffocated teams defensively during stretches in the Classic every bit as much as last year’s Bears, with help from a couple of newcomers.
Sophomore Marissa Brakes garnered screams of approval from the bench Monday in her home varsity debut when she dove on top of a South Wolverine to fight for a loose ball. She looked just like her big(ger) sis, Karli, the Bears’ defensive pit bull at the point who never saw a ball she didn’t think she could get her hands on.
You don’t see that sort of effort — and subsequent appreciation from teammates and coaches — in a box score, but the younger Brakes did something that does on Tuesday. More on that later…
Six-foot-2 senior center Hannah Swofford showed a greatly improved game around the basket, flashing a couple of nice post moves and an unstoppable jump hook.
I’m no coach and will never presume to be an expert, but one thing I’d like to see Swofford and fellow 6-footer Maria Weyhrauch do is attack the glass with more ferocity. Use that size to your advantage and own those 50-50 balls that come off the rim.
Swofford averaged 3.25 rebounds per game, playing 14.66 minutes.
Weyhrauch had to play away from the basket more than normal because of a lack of depth in the backcourt due to Karli Brakes’ injury, but she did have seven big rebounds in 23 minutes against Crescent Valley. She also made a huge basket with under a minute to go to cut the Bears’ deficit to two points on a play where she wasn’t timid at all.
Juneau-Douglas has a rare blessing in girls’ prep basketball of tremendous size and strength in the post. The Crimson Bears could be nearly unstoppable underneath.
Senior forward Taylor Larson is capable of getting a double-double every night, and she somehow finds a way to score on anyone, now matter how much taller they are. Many are taller, few, if any, are stronger. However, it’s clear she’s going to draw a lot of attention — triple teams at times — around the basket.
If the much-improved Nani Ostrom and Esra Siddeek can knock down shots as they did at times during the tournament, it’s going to be a huge benefit to Larson underneath. Siddeek made 5 of 7 triples in the final game, and Ostrom made 3 of 5 treys in scoring 15 points against South.
Perhaps most impressive was senior forward Sarah Tarver. The 5-foot-10 Tarver plays like she’s 6-foot-2 but with a handle, and she’s going to be a nightmare matchup for any team she faces. She’s capable of defending nearly every position and has great anticipation.
Length, of course, never hurts.
Not only can she defend in the full- and half-courts, but she also stuffed the stat line every night in winning MVP honors for the girls.
She averaged nearly 8 points, better than 8 boards, four assists, two steals and a block in 21 minutes a game,. Against South on Monday, she nearly pulled off the rare rebound-assist double-double.
If Tarver, a prep All-American soccer player as a junior, transforms on the basketball court this year the way she did on the volleyball court, I have two words for you: Watch. Out.
OK, one more word: Beast.
Area for concern: defensive communication.
Former Crimson Bear and 2010 First Team All-State selection Brittany Fenumiai was in attendance and she was impressed with what she saw.
Fenumiai noted the Bears’ lack of communication on the defensive end.
She makes a great point, and coach Lesslie Knight agreed.
“One of the things we’ve talked about is our inability to talk on defense,” she said. “We talked about it at halftime (of the Crescent Valley game), and I screamed and yelled — I’m quite hoarse — and I chewed my bench (out).
“Whether they’re playing or not, their job is to be vocal and involve themselves by talking when we’re on defense. I think the tempo changed when we started talking.”
What we think: The JDHS girls are really good.
What we know: They’ll be even better before it’s all said and done. They can be as good as they want to be and, really, who doesn’t want to win another state title?
That’s what I thought.
What we saw: Who knows how big of a factor she’ll be for the Bears this season, but Marissa Brakes’ monster 3-pointer in the overtime win against Crescent Valley was a moment that won’t soon be forgotten. Not only did she make the big shot, but then she got planted for the second time of the game before shaking it off and coolly knocking down two free throws with 15.5 seconds left to extend the Bears’ lead back to three points.
The 5-foot sophomore point guard scored five of the Crimson Bears’ seven points in the extra four minutes, and proved exactly why guts can’t be measured in height. No doubt, that runs in the family.
Karli fondly remembers her welcome-to-big-time-varsity-basketball coming out party against Colony a couple of years ago.
Welcome to big-time varsity basketball, Marissa.
Area of concern: Is there such a thing as too many players?
It’s certainly possible if people forget about the team-first concept — especially as the rotation starts to shrink later in the season and guys get less minutes than they did at the start of the year.
What we think: The JDHS boys will be better than last year’s state tourney team.
What we know: When Tony Yadao is on his game, he’s one of the most exciting players around.
What we saw: It was tough to get a good read on the JDHS boys because they played against a 2A and a 3A school, and had three key players missing the tournament.
But a few things are certain: The Bears are very quick in the back court, have good size and muscle in the post and are going to be much improved, especially with the addition of strong man De’Andre King, the tourney MVP, in the middle.
And, hey, they made the state tournament last year.
With senior swingman Colin Gozelski, sophomore wing Phillip Fenumiai and big man Ryan Baldwin back on the court, this is an incredibly intriguing team with a lot of potential and possibilities ahead.
And on top of that, all of the returnees, to a man, have stepped their games up to the next level..
It’s going to be a fun season in Juneau for fans of prep basketball.
• Sports Editor Shaun T. Cox can be reached at email@example.com, or 523-2228