The Juneau-Douglas High School boys basketball team had some fun last weekend, playing a couple of nationally ranked fifth-year prep school teams and two in-state rivals.
But now it's time for the games that really matter.
The Crimson Bears hit the road this weekend to play the Ketchikan Kings tonight and Saturday night at Ketchikan High School's Clarke Cochrane Gymnasium. Game times are 4 p.m. for C team, 6 p.m. for junior varsity and 8 p.m. for varsity games each day, with the two varsity games broadcast in Juneau on KINY radio-800 AM.
"Region games are always the most important part of the schedule," Juneau senior co-captain Tom Derbesy said. "We always want the bye (the top seed at the region tournament), and only one team gets to go to state. The games up north were pretty intense, but region games are drawn out and physical, a different kind of intensity."
"They're big games and one of our goals is always to win region," added Juneau senior Kyle Huntsman, who was the only Crimson Bear named to the all-tournament team at the Alaska Airlines Eagle Classic last weekend at West Anchorage High School. "If we can beat them at their place, we can send them a message."
The Crimson Bears (3-4 overall, 0-0 Southeast Conference) are looking for a little revenge this weekend, since they closed out last season with three straight lopsided losses to the Kings (7-3, 0-0). After kicking two starters off the team for rules infractions, Juneau went to Ketchikan and lost 91-54 and 68-53 to end the regular season. Then, regular-season champion Juneau faced Ketchikan in the Region V-Class 4A championship game and lost 72-52 as the Kings earned their region title in 15 years.
"They're our first conference games and, basically, they're the No. 1 seed," Juneau head coach George Houston said of the Kings. "They've got eight seniors on their roster, and I look at their roster and recognize all but one guy."
"We can't say just because we played these nationally ranked teams that, OK, it's going to be a cakewalk when we go to Ketchikan," Derbesy said, adding that Juneau always seems to have a target on its uniform when it plays Ketchikan or Sitka. "It's something we don't mind and we accept it. We relish it that we have to prepare twice as hard for conference games. Ketchikan and Sitka always get up for playing us."
Even though he's new to the Crimson Bears, the importance of this weekend's games hasn't been lost on sophomore center Will Egolf, who played for Class 3A Haines last year.
"It's a totally different game, a lot faster paced, and it means more when we beat them," Egolf said when asked to compare the Class 3A and Class 4A conference games.
The Crimson Bears' record is deceptive as Juneau has gone 3-1 against in-state competition. Juneau dominated its three victories over Service (61-39), Dimond (74-49) and Palmer (74-37) - winning each game by at least 20 points - but the Crimson Bears were blitzed 70-39 by defending Class 4A champion West Anchorage. Juneau's other three losses have been to Lower 48 teams.
Ketchikan is 7-3, but has yet to play an Alaska Class 4A team this year. The Kings went 3-3 against Lower 48 and Canadian teams in a tournament in California and at their own Clarke Cochrane Christmas Classic, and Ketchikan has a 4-0 record against Southeast-Class 3A teams Metlakatla and Craig.
The Kings will be missing their top scorer and rebounder as 6-foot-4 senior forward Tyler Richardson continues to nurse a broken hand. But two weekends ago, 6-5 senior Mike Meacock took Richardson's place in the starting lineup and scored 12 points in a 93-54 victory over Metlakatla. Ketchikan was idle last weekend.
Other returning starters for Ketchikan - all seniors - are 5-7 point guard Jesse LeBeau, 5-9 guard Casey Bass and 6-1 forward Derek Clark.
The Crimson Bears, to a man, said they wished Richardson a speedy recovery.
"I'm itching to beat 'em at their place, and I want him (Richardson) better so we can beat them at full strength," Huntsman said.
"I want him to be there. It won't be the same without him," Egolf said.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.