The Southeast Conference boys’ basketball season gets underway tonight with a crosstown showdown between Thunder Mountain and Juneau-Douglas at 6 p.m. at TMHS.
The Crimson Bears were tabbed the team to beat by Ketchikan coach Erik Stockhausen and Thunder Mountain coach John Blasco, as the Kings reload after losing three-quarters of their scoring punch from last season, and the freshmen- and sophomore-heavy Falcons are still figuring out how to play together.
Juneau-Douglas is blessed with a ton of size inside this year, while Ketchikan and Thunder Mountain will be more perimeter-oriented.
The Kings went 7-1 in the regular season last year against the Falcons and Bears, dropping only their conference opener at TMHS, before getting upset in the tournament’s final game on a last-second steal and lay-up by Juneau-Douglas’ Lance Ibesate.
All three teams and coaches are well aware of the possibilities come tournament time, where any team can get hot and win a few games in the double-elimination format.
TMHS and JDHS are at Juneau-Douglas on Saturday at 8 p.m., and the Falcons face the Kings on Feb. 4-5 in Ketchikan. The Bears and Kings don’t meet until Feb. 11-12 in Juneau.
Ketchikan Kings (4-2)
Coach: Erik Stockhausen
Ketchikan is going through the difficult task of replacing top scorer Jeff Whicker and the versatile Tyller Bell, who combined to put up 37.8 points, 12.6 rebounds and six assists per game last season. Whicker was one of the state’s top scorers at 25.2 points per game, while the Kings made 49 percent of their shots from the field and 34 percent from beyond the arc.
“We lost a lot from last year’s group with Jeff and Tyler, I think around 75 percent of our offense — we had a big senior class last year,”
Stockhausen said. “We’ve got some kids who have been in our program who are in their third year, and they’re starting to understand some things. We feel very fortunate to have played well enough to have gotten off to a good start, but we know we’ve got a long way to go.”
Taking up the scoring slack this season is the quartet of Chas Allen (13.3 points per game), Jesse Lindgren (12.8), Kyle Day (11.8) and Alex William (8.5).
“I think our kids are very unselfish and they play a fairly cerebral ball game,” Stockhausen said. “At this early stage, they’re doing well. We all need to get better but I think the kids have really worked on their skills, and we shoot the ball fairly well at times.”
Stockhausen said rebounding is a major factor with his team’s success.
“In our wins, we outrebounded our opponents. The two we lost, we didn’t,” he said. “And I think cutting down on turnovers is big. We’re at 18 a game and when you’re playing with five guards it’s imperative to take care of the ball, and we should be able to do that.”
Stockhausen said he likes how Blasco is building the program at Thunder Mountain.
“I think Coach Blasco’s got a great teaching situation with a lot of young guys that are playing their hearts out,” he said. “He’s a good coach and they’re going to do well, and I think they’ve already shown marked improvement. They’re definitely building for the future and doing it the right way, with young kids learning as they go. I think come March, they’ll be very dangerous because of how many bodies they can throw at you and the energy they have.
JDHS is loaded from top to bottom, Stockhausen said, and the Bears’ size down low is going to present a challenge.
“Juneau(-Douglas), they’ve got a lot of good players. I think Tony Yadao is fantastic, and Colin (Gozelski) is a heck of an athlete,” he said. “I just really respect their kids and what they do. They’re going to be what everyone is shooting for between Thunder Mountain and us, and until we play them we won’t really know what we’ve got.”
Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears (6-1)
Coach: Steve Potter
The Crimson Bears were tabbed the early favorites by Stockhausen and Blasco, but JDHS coach Steve Potter said his team still has a long way to go.
Potter said the Bears are much more effective when patient and making fundamental basketball plays in the flow of the offense, as opposed to trying to make flashy plays.
“We are capable of making some pretty dynamic passes and shots, but we’re not effective when that’s our goal,” he said. “When we reverse the ball and go inside, we’re pretty effective.”
One of Juneau-Douglas’ biggest strong suits is its depth. Eighteen Bears have seen the floor this year, and JDHS can go big or small when the situation calls for it.
“We’re pretty big. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to play with more than 1,000 pounds of guys on the floor,” he said. “We can put some girth out there and we’re not short.
JDHS has six players listed at 6-foot-4 or taller, and swingman Colin Gozelski (22 points in two games played) stands 6-foot-3. Junior center Evan Gross is 6-foot-7, big man Ryan Baldwin is 6-foot-6 and forward De’Andre “Jazz” King is 6-foot-4. Baldwin (13 points and 17 boards in two games) and King (10.8 points and 7.8 boards) are too strong for anyone else in the conference to push around underneath.
Backcourt starters Lance Ibesate (7.4 points, 2.4 assists and 3.2 steals per game) and Tony Yadao (8 points, 3.6 assists, 3 boards and 2.2 steals) stand 5-foot-5 and 5-foot-8, respectively, but the duo is lightning quick with strong ball-handling skills. Potter said he just wants the pair to play under control.
“We definitely have some talented ball handlers but sometimes they forget that the goal is not to display the ball-handling talents, but to use them to get out of trouble, not to get into trouble,” he said. “I prefer the pass and the cut to the dribble-drive, but we have guards that are capable of doing that so it’s been a little bit of an adjustment for me.”
Taking high-percentage shots, Potter said, has been the team’s biggest weakness.
Potter said even though the Kings are rebuilding, he expects them to surprise some people this year.
“The reports I’ve gotten are they are going to dribble, penetrate and kick, and they’ve got guys that can shoot it,” he said. “I’m familiar with the Kyle Day kid and I know he’s a really good shooter, and has apparently expanded his game. I don’t think they’ll be as big as us, but if we try to play on the perimeter and match 3-pointers, we’ll be in trouble.”
Potter’s thoughts of Thunder Mountain echoed Stockhausen’s. Both like how hard the Falcons play, and both feel that constant effort means they’ll always have a chance to win.
“Any time guys play hard, they have a chance,” Potter said. “We’re certainly older, bigger and more experienced, but they have some ability and they’re going to challenge us every game.”
Thunder Mountain Falcons (3-7)
Coach: John Blasco
Thunder Mountain enters Year 2 of its program a little behind where they were last year at this time. Last year’s Falcons had seniors, including All-State swingman Cody Grussendorf and guard Reese Saviers, anchoring the starting unit, and King, who has since transferred to JDHS, in the post. Nine of this season’s 13 players on varsity are either freshmen or sophomores, led by guard Keith Ainsworth’s 12.1 points per game. The Falcons, like the Kings, are balanced. Freshman guard Matt Seymour adds 10.2 points per game, sophomore guard Ty Grussendorf 8.4 and sophomore forward Sam Jahn 5.0.
“We didn’t know what we were going to look like coming back with such a young group. They’re developing quite nicely and coming into their own,” Blasco said. “They’re still young, but they’re gaining confidence and learning how to play together, which I’m excited for. That really bodes well for the future.”
Blasco said the biggest plus he’s seen from his young group is their willingness to compete and mix it up.
“The kids never quit,” he said. “We’re smaller and athletic so we like to get out and run. We brought up a few kids from the JV that have some good size, so that should help us be more balanced.”
Rebounding and post defense are the Falcons’ biggest weaknesses.
“Definitely rebounding and guarding the bigger posts are going to be tough for us, but the main things we’re trying to focus on are pure ball handling,” he said, “and getting more consistent in our flow of the offense and playing a full 32-minute game.”
Blasco said Ketchikan looks solid from what he’s seen this year.
“Coach Stockhausen does a great job with those guys and they work really hard in the offseason from what I hear,” he said. “They’re going to be about the same size as us but they’re older and might have a little bit more talent at this point in the season.
“They have the edge right now but I think it’s going to be a better matchup for us in terms of size.”
Like Ketchikan, Thunder Mountain will have trouble matching Juneau-Douglas’ strength down low.
“Obviously, they’ve got a big front line down there, and they’ve got two really solid guards,” he said. “They’re pretty balanced and they can get out and run or slow the game down and pound you inside. It’s going to be a game of valuing each possession against them because every one will be important against a team like JD. Once you’re in the hole against a team like that, it will be tough to climb out of.”