Now that the Juneau-Douglas High School boys basketball team is done with this season's Capital City Classic, the Crimson Bears are ready to see how they stack up against some of the state's top teams.
Juneau opened its season by winning its 10th straight title in its annual tournament. The Crimson Bears weren't challenged much by the three visiting teams as Juneau's victory margins were 42, 35 and 21 points.
This weekend, Juneau heads to Anchorage to play some of Alaska's better teams. The Crimson Bears will play at Service High School tonight at 7:30 p.m. Then they head across town to play in the 2003 Alaska Prep Shootout this Thursday through Saturday at Dimond High School. All of Juneau's games will be broadcast on KINY, 800-AM radio.
"We're really excited," said Juneau junior guard Alex Heumann, who was named MVP of last week's Capital City Classic. "We haven't played any Alaska teams yet. We can't wait to get some experience against Alaska teams. It'll be great. We haven't seen any of the teams up there this year."
The Crimson Bears (3-0 overall) open the week at Service, which is a team Juneau knows little about. The Cougars have a new coach in Dave Porter - Service is one of four teams in Anchorage with new coaches this year - and none of Juneau's four-year varsity players (seniors Joe Ayers, Sterling Henderson or Bryan Hamey) has ever played at Service's gym before.
"I heard they're big," Heumann said. "I was told Service has nine players over 6-foot-3."
"I played with two of them (Cougars) this summer - four-man (power forward) Adam Dunn and two-guard (shooting guard) David Hardy," Juneau senior guard Nik Hura said. "Other than that, I don't know much about them."
Service won its Cougar Tip-Off Classic just before Christmas, beating West Anchorage, Homer and Class 3A Petersburg. Juneau coach George Houston said he talked to Petersburg coach Rick Brock for a scouting report.
"I have heard they've got good size and they play some 1-2-2 zone (defense)," Houston said. "It's the only gym in four years we haven't played in in Anchorage."
The Service gym is unique among high school gyms in Anchorage because it's the only one with bleachers on all four sides of the basketball court, which can affect the depth perception of visiting shooters.
After playing Service, it's on to the Alaska Prep Shootout, which has one of the strongest fields in its history. The eight-team tournament features six of the eight teams from last year's Class 4A state tournament and one team from the Class 3A state tourney. Juneau's side of the bracket is the toughest, with four of the six Class 4A state teams in it - Juneau, preseason favorite Wasilla, defending champion Bartlett and Colony.
The Crimson Bears open with Wasilla at 3 p.m. on Thursday, for a rematch of their epic overtime game won by Juneau in last year's state semifinals. The Warriors also have a new coach this year, but they return 7-foot center Ray Schafer who was listed among the country's top 100 seniors nationally by Student Sports Magazine. Schafer will play for Oregon next year.
In addition to Schafer, Wasilla features returning senior guard Cody Schierman and Schafer's little brother, 6-7 sophomore Luke Schafer, who Wasilla coach Jason Marvel said is ahead of Ray's progress at the same age. The Warriors picked up a new point guard when senior Buddy Bailey transferred from Anchorage Christian Schools. Bailey is 6-3, but he can shoot the 3-pointer and has already led Wasilla in scoring a couple of times this year. Wasilla is 2-2 this season after beating Colony, then going 1-2 in a tournament in Binghamton, N.Y.
"I was leery of showing them (the Crimson Bears) the Dimond format," Houston said. "But I had to so they could tell their parents. I didn't want them to look past their first opponent."
Depending on how Juneau does against Wasilla, the Crimson Bears will get either the winner or loser of Thursday's game between Bartlett and Colony. If Juneau wins on Thursday, it plays the Bartlett-Colony winner at 7 p.m. on Friday. If Juneau loses, it plays the Bartlett-Colony loser at 4:45 p.m. on Friday.
The defending state champion Golden Bears (2-2) are coming off a fifth-place finish in the Arby's Classic in Bristol, Tenn., where they beat frequent nationally ranked team Science Hill of Tennessee 76-73. Bartlett lost most of its taller players from last season, including 6-7 forward Andrew Smith, who was player of the year. But the Golden Bears return guards Mario Chalmers, Doug Hardy and Daniel Brown, plus forward Zack Bowman, the state's football player of the year.
Colony (3-2) lost in the championship game at the Earth Wireless Holiday Hoopfest in Redmond, Ore., and the Knights have several returners from last year's squad that lost to Juneau in the first round of the state tournament. Guard Clay Hotchkiss is leading Colony in scoring with 13 points a game, while forward Jason Christensen is averaging a double-double. Other key players for Colony are forwards Joe Reza and Brandon Hyslip and guards Landon Swank, Antoine Spencer and Justin Coffman.
"Bartlett's strength has shifted from its front court to its backcourt, and I heard they press a lot," Houston said. "Colony had a lot of good juniors last year. They've got a 6-5 kid inside, and they can go inside-outside on teams."
In the other half of the bracket are host Dimond and ACS (the only Class 3A team in the tourney), while Lathrop plays East Anchorage (the only non-state qualifier in the tourney) in the other first-round game on Thursday. Juneau will play one of those four teams on Saturday. The title game is at 7:45 p.m., with the third-fifth place game at 6 p.m., the fourth-sixth place game at 3:45 p.m. and the seventh-eighth place game at 2 p.m.
"I like the fact that it's in Anchorage and it's on their turf," Hura said. "That way we can rise to the occasion."
"It'll give us a chance to see what's out there and who we'll be up against later in the year," Juneau junior forward Adam Nelson said. "We'll have to work hard. We can't let up."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.