It's a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire for the Juneau-Douglas High School boys basketball team.
The Crimson Bears didn't get much time to dwell over their first two losses of the season, 70-52 and 62-46 to two-time defending Class 4A state champion East Anchorage last Friday and Saturday. Juneau only had two days of practice before hitting the road for four games this week, with the possibility that all four games could be against teams from last year's state tournament.
The Crimson Bears (3-2 overall) open their road trip at 8 p.m. Wednesday night against the Wasilla Warriors at Wasilla High School. Juneau lost two early-season games to Wasilla last year, then came from behind in the game's final 40 seconds to claim a 58-54 victory over the Warriors in the first round of the state tournament.
The Crimson Bears and the Warriors play a rematch at 4:45 p.m. Thursday in the first round of the Alaska Prep Shootout at Anchorage's Dimond High School. If Juneau should beat Wasilla in the first round of the tournament, there's a good chance the Crimson Bears will see defending state runner-up Dimond in Friday's 8:45 p.m. semifinal. And if things work out, East is in the other half of the bracket and could meet Juneau in Saturday's 8:45 p.m. championship game (all four Juneau games will be broadcast live on KINY, 800-AM). The other teams in the Alaska Prep Shootout are Bartlett, Skyview, defending Class 3A state champion Grace Christian School and 1999 Class 3A state champion Anchorage Christian Schools.
"That's the whole idea of playing the toughest schedule we can early in the season," Juneau boys head coach George Houston said. "There are definitely no ducks on our schedule. We'll be playing four days in a row, so fatigue will be a factor. But these are potentially four really high quality games for us."
Juneau saw Wasilla three times last year, only winning the one time at state. But this year's Warriors squad will be a mystery for most of the Crimson Bears. Wasilla lost its entire starting five to graduation, but still had enough firepower to upset one of the state's preseason favorites, Bartlett, 54-52 last week at Bartlett.
Wasilla has a young roster with only two seniors -- 5-foot-10 guard P.J. Bean and 5-9 guard James Watts. But there is a strong underclass group led by 6-10 sophomore center Ray Schafer, who's grown three inches since last season. Wasilla has two other taller players in 6-6 junior Adam Tebow and 6-5 sophomore Mason Heibel, but other than that only two other players on the roster are over 5-11 and those two (sophomore Cody Scheirman and junior Travis Webb) are only 6-1. Even though some of the players saw action at state last year, none of Wasilla's returners scored against Juneau.
"They had a good freshman group and they split with our JVs last year," Houston said. "They weren't all seniors. We knocked them out in the first round of state, and coach (Chuck) Martin I'm sure remembers that. This week will be a lot like last year, when we played them on a Friday and a Saturday. Coach Martin and I have seen each other enough times over the years that we pretty much know what we both run."
"I wish we had a couple of more days to practice, so we could work hard and get ready," Juneau forward James Severin said. "Wasilla is pretty disciplined in what they run. They lost their seniors, but now they've got the 6-10 kid. If we beat them in Wasilla, we know they'll come out hard against us in the tournament."
The Juneau players aren't sure what to think about the Warriors, but after seeing what Wasilla did to Bartlett the Crimson Bears are wary.
"They're going to be out to beat us," Juneau forward Ryan Monagle said. "We've got to be prepared."
"We didn't think they'd be as good," Juneau guard Julius 'Junior' Cumlat said. "We were surprised when they beat Bartlett. At least now we're not going to underestimate them. We have to see how tough we are. We haven't been on the road yet."
After the two games with Wasilla, Juneau will face the winner or loser of Thursday's tournament game between Dimond and Skyview. Juneau beat Dimond 64-56 in the Capital City Classic two weeks ago, but the favored Lynx won last weekend's Cougar Tip-Off at Service High School and now stand 5-1 on the season.
In the other half of the bracket, Bartlett plays ACS and East plays Grace and Bartlett and East should meet in the semifinals. The Crimson Bears are hoping they can get through their half of the bracket for another crack at East.
"We've been working on things, like some of the weaknesses we showed last weekend," Houston said. "Tonight (Monday) we watched the video of Saturday's game and we saw where we had some breakdowns. Like some of our conversions defensively, we lost the ball, then made a swipe at it instead of getting back on defense. And we didn't attack their zone. We tried too many jumpers instead of getting inside against them."
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