As the Juneau-Douglas High School boys basketball team prepares for two critical contests against rival Ketchikan this weekend, one particular lesson learned should be especially useful - start quick.
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"We need to be ready at the start of the game," JDHS forward Cameron Cook said.
In last weekend's trip in Anchorage, the Crimson Bears' fortunes rested largely on their ability to start early. A slow beginning against Bartlett on Jan. 12 translated into a 14-point loss, as did a Jan. 11 defeat to Notre Dame Academy, Va.
On Jan. 13, however, the Crimson Bears vaporized Barrow 72-35 by putting the Whalers away early. JDHS led 44-19 at halftime against its Class 3A foe.
"I think it's a state of mind of being ready to compete from the start," JDHS coach Steve Potter said. "It's about wanting to go at people and wanting to be willing to defend right away."
Starting quickly and not allowing the Kings to build any momentum will be crucial to the Crimson Bears' chances this weekend.
Ketchikan enters this weekend's contests as one of Alaska's hottest teams. The Kings are ranked in the season's first Alaska Sportswriters Prep Basketball Poll.
"They're extremely important games and it'll be extremely important that we're ready to go," Potter said. "Ketchikan is rated higher than us right now and we need to see if that's accurate."
JDHS boys basketball
Who: No. 4 Ketchikan (9-2, 0-0) vs. Juneau-Douglas (6-3, 2-0).
When: 8 p.m. tonight and Saturday.
Where: JDHS gym.
What's at stake: This early season conference series could determine who's the top seed in March's regional tournament.
One of the more intriguing subplots surrounding this weekend's series revolves around both team's tallest players.
Juneau-Douglas' Will Egolf and Ketchikan's Damen Bell-Holter are two of Alaska's top big men and plenty of eyes will be focused on them.
Egolf, a 6-foot-9 senior center and first-team All State selection as a junior, leads Juneau in scoring.
The Kings' Bell-Holter also stands 6-foot-9 and can score inside with regularity. He scored more than 30 points in two wins over North Pole on Jan. 5 and 6.
"It's not a one-on-one game, but Will is going to touch the ball a lot," Potter said. "I imagine for Ketchikan, part of their strategy is to get the ball to their big kid. But it's not going to be a one-on-one matchup."
Both teams, however, are much more than their 6-foot-9 centers.
Ketchikan has a veteran squad that has made the state tournament two of the last three years.
Point guard Matt Boyd, forward Trevor Norton, sophomore guard Jase Scudero and guard Eric Bezenek are all capable of scoring at any time.
Juneau counters with a rapidly maturing roster.
JDHS point guard Nico Saldivar helped direct an attack that only allowed 11 turnovers against Barrow. Robert Beierly, Dominique Brinson, Bryan Combs, Ryan Larson and Sam Clark all have the ability to provide instant offense.
Potter labeled Cook as the team's wild card. The senior provides the team a third inside option and complements Egolf and Clae Baker well.
The atmosphere should be raucous for the Crimson Bears' first home game since Dec. 30.
On the court, Ketchikan and JDHS always seem to bring the best out of each other. In the last five seasons, these two programs battled each other in March for the Class 4A Southeast Conference title.
While a trip to the state tournament isn't on the line this weekend, the Bears are itching to get on the court.
"I can't wait. Everyone can't wait," Egolf said. "They're always the best games we play, I think. It'll be fun."
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com.