Hands were everywhere as the Juneau-Douglas High School boys basketball team's starting five tried to move the ball upcourt during practice Tuesday night.
The Crimson Bears were preparing for tonight's 6:45 p.m. game against two-time defending Class 4A state champion Bartlett in the first round of the East T-Bird Classic at East Anchorage High School. The Golden Bears beat Juneau 89-41 on Dec. 17 in the season opener for both squads, and they have lost just once in Alaska since the 2000-01 season.
To get ready for Bartlett's pressure defense, Juneau's starting five attempted to bring the ball upcourt against just about every other live body in the gym - managers and an assistant coach included. By running drills with five against eight, or 10 - it was hard to count with all the moving bodies on the court - the Crimson Bears were trying to recreate the hectic feel of Bartlett's pressure cooker.
"Stop! Stop! Why'd you make that lazy lob? Those are the kinds of passes Bartlett takes the other way," Juneau boys coach George Houston yelled about every second or third trip down the court during the five-on-eight drill. Small and quick, Bartlett can seem as if it has eight players on defense with the Golden Bears' fast reaction to the ball.
When Juneau faced the Golden Bears to open the season, the young Crimson Bears said Bartlett's press left them with the glazed-eyed look of a deer caught in headlights. They weren't ready for the intensity, especially after losing 12 players to graduation over the last two years.
"We've got to go up on this road trip and prove something," Juneau senior forward Adam Nelson said. "We can't be lazy. We need to make strong passes and we need to have confidence in our game. The last time, we were scared. We can't play scared."
"I think we came out scared, but now we've got some games under our belts and that was our first game," Juneau senior guard Alex Heumann said. "I think we can handle it if we're patient and smart with the ball. We can't leave anyone alone."
While it might be difficult to make up the 48-point margin Bartlett had over Juneau last month, the Crimson Bears feel they can chip away at a significant portion of it. And Juneau has not been the only team to be toasted by Bartlett, as Wasilla - the only Alaska team to beat Bartlett the last three seasons - fell behind 31-7 and ended up losing 86-59 early last week.
"I expect us to be more competitive playing them," Houston said. "We're playing more as a group and we've improved since we played them before."
"It'll be nice to get another shot at them," Juneau junior swingman Kyle Huntsman said. "We did so poorly the last time and we want to show we've improved, and to show we can compete. We're just working on being stronger with the ball and being more sure with the ball. Also, our first-game jitters aren't there anymore."
Mychal Hutcherson, a junior forward, thinks the Crimson Bears can use their size advantage to counter Bartlett's small lineup.
"When we need to be physical with them, we're doing a lot better," Hutcherson said. "They're not that big. I've got relatives like that, small and quick, and they don't like to be physical. It'll be really tough, because they are fast, but I think this time it will come out a whole lot different. We're not 40 points worse than them."
Depending on how Juneau does tonight, the Crimson Bears will play either the winner or loser of today's 5 p.m. Lathrop-Chugiak game. Juneau hosts Lathrop for homecoming on Jan. 30-31. If the Crimson Bears beat Bartlett, they play at 8:30 p.m. on Friday. If they lose to Bartlett, they play at 5 p.m. on Friday.
The other half of the bracket has a Southeast presence as tourney host East Anchorage plays Sitka at 8:30 p.m. tonight. The other game in that half of the bracket is Colony vs. Service at 3:15 p.m. today. The losers will play at 3:15 p.m. on Friday and the winners go at 6:45 p.m. on Friday.
On Saturday, the seventh-eighth place game is at 3:15 p.m.; the fourth-sixth place game is at 5 p.m.; the third-fifth place game is 6:45 p.m. and the championship game is at 8:30 p.m.
The Juneau junior varsity and C teams will head to Petersburg for games today and Saturday.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.