It's been a long two weeks for the Juneau-Douglas High School boys basketball team.
The Crimson Bears went back to basics after losing all three of their games in the Alaska Prep Shootout held Jan. 9-11 at Anchorage's Dimond High School, and the practices have been intense with head coach George Houston drilling the team on fundamentals.
"There were some long practices, long days," Juneau senior guard Sterling Henderson said. "It was back to the basics, back to square one."
This weekend, the Juneau boys will get to see what they've learned as they host the Service Cougars in a pair of non-conference games. The games are at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights at the JDHS main gym.
"It'll be an interesting weekend," Houston said. "Hopefully we've grown and improved."
Juneau (4-3 overall) faced Service to open its ill-fated road trip two weeks ago, beating the Cougars 71-59 on Jan. 8 at Service High School.
In that game, Juneau senior forward Bryan Hamey scored 22 of his game-high 26 points in the second half to lead the Crimson Bears while Henderson added 12 points and center Byron Wild scored 10 points. Service (5-4) was led by Adam Dunn, a 6-foot-6 forward who scored 13 of his team-high 17 points in the first half, and by David Hardy's 16 points.
But the Crimson Bears said they're playing Service this weekend as if they'd never been in that game two weeks ago.
"We're preparing for them like we've never played them," Henderson said of the Cougars, who list nine players on their roster who are 6-foot-3 or taller. "Blocking out is going to be huge. We won't win if we don't rebound."
When Juneau played in the Alaska Prep Shootout, the Crimson Bears were hurt by different problems in each game.
In a 57-50 opening-round loss to eventual champion Wasilla, the combination of 7-foot center Ray Schafer and 6-3 guard Buddy Bailey was too much for the Crimson Bears. In a 57-46 loss to Colony the next night, Juneau was outrebounded 38-24 and only made 36.2 percent (17-for-47) of its shots from the field - 21.4 percent (3-for-14) from the 3-point arc. Finally, in a 57-56 loss to Lathrop, Juneau committed 28 turnovers after only having nine against Colony.
The turnovers and rebounding problems have been key focal points for the last two weeks of practice, and during Wednesday night's practice Houston stopped a couple of drills to get onto his team about its lackadaisical passing. Houston said many of the turnovers against Lathrop weren't forced by the Malemutes. Instead, the Juneau players weren't paying attention and passed it right to a Lathrop player, or threw their passes so softly Lathrop players were able to pick them off.
Hamey said the Crimson Bears feel like they're ready to play again after the two-week layoff.
"We're all anxious to play, especially after that bad showing in Anchorage," said Hamey, who added that the Crimson Bears have been working on showing more passion in their play. "We want to try and put it all together. We don't worry about the other team as much. I think we're starting to play better."
"I think the break really helped us," Juneau junior center Adam Nelson said. "We got a lot of work done. This is bringing us to the long stretch of the season."
Service has played just one game since losing to Juneau, beating Soldotna 92-45 last Saturday at Service. In that game, the Cougars outscored the Stars 21-0 in the first quarter and 24-9 in the third period. Hardy led the Cougars with 26 points, while Bryan Jones had 18 and Dunn scored 17.
This weekend's varsity games will both be broadcast live in town on KINY, 800-AM. The two games were added to Juneau's schedule two weeks ago when Service found out it had an extra opening on its schedule because it dropped to the losers' bracket of the Torrey Pines tournament near San Diego earlier this season and didn't play as many games as expected. Saturday's game will be an ASAA Endowment Game, which means the gate from that game will go to the Alaska School Activities Association to help fund travel costs to state tournaments.
"Service's coach, Dave Porter, was an assistant coach with East (Anchorage) when it came to Juneau last year," Houston said. "He said he really liked the atmosphere down here and wanted his team to experience it."
The Juneau junior varsity boys will also see action this weekend. The Crimson Bears JV team will face a pick-up team of JDHS athletes who aren't on the basketball team at 6 p.m. on Friday, then will host the Skagway varsity team at 6 p.m. on Saturday night.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.