Now that the high school basketball season is halfway over, Juneau-Douglas boys coach George Houston thinks it's time for his Crimson Bears to stop making the same mistakes they made early in the season.
The Crimson Bears have improved since losing twice to Wasilla two weeks ago, but Houston feels there's still room to get better. And, if Juneau doesn't improve the Crimson Bears will suffer when the Bartlett Golden Bears come to town for one game at 8 p.m. Saturday night at the JDHS main gym (game broadcast on KINY, 800-AM).
"We're halfway through the season now. It's going by so fast, and we've got to stop making the same early season mistakes," Houston said. "I still have a concern about our conversion defense. If we're not getting back on defense against Bartlett, our fans are going to see some dunks and unfortunately they're going to be on us."
The Golden Bears are just 5-5 overall entering their two-game Southeast swing that features a single game tonight at Sitka and Saturday's game with Juneau. But Bartlett is a dangerous 5-5. The Golden Bears have some of the better athletes in Alaska high school basketball.
Bartlett has a tall lineup that includes 6-foot-7 center Joey Weber, 6-6 forward Andrew Smith, 6-6 forward Marcus Watts (Bartlett's quarterback in football) and 6-5, 280-pound center Tui Alailefaleula. Nimble despite his size, Alailefaleula was ranked among the nation's top-15 high school defensive linemen by several recruiting groups this year and will play football for the University of Washington this coming fall. Nobody on Bartlett's roster is under 6-feet tall, and 6-2 forward Brandon Moore and 6-2 guard Cedric Walker will be among Bartlett's scoring leaders.
"We saw them play at the Dimond tournament (the Alaska Prep Shootout two weeks ago)," said Juneau forward James Severin, who leads the Crimson Bears in scoring with 16.5 points a game. "We knew they're tall. They have a lot of height, but other than Tui they're not really that bulky. They were one of the most athletic teams there, and when teams have that kind of talent they're always dangerous when they're working together. We're still far from where we need to be."
"Tui's a load, but the other ones are kind of long and lanky," Houston said. "They've got some great athletes at Bartlett. Jer Hamey (Juneau's assistant girls coach) was in Anchorage and saw the Bartlett-East game Tuesday (East won 81-52). He said Andrew Smith grabbed two offensive rebounds and turned them into two-handed dunks against East."
Houston is worried his front-line depth might be hurt this weekend with an injury to 6-6 center Leon Bus, who hurt his left shoulder in a collision with Sitka's Greg Blankenship last Saturday. Bus hasn't been able to practice this week and will only see limited action this weekend. Houston said Bus may also be limited when the Crimson Bears head to Palmer next weekend to play in the Palmer Elks Showdown against Chugiak, Palmer and Homer.
"Our next two games, against Bartlett and Chugiak, are against the biggest teams in the state," Houston said.
That means forwards Byron Wild and Jake Miller will have to pick up some of the slack against Bartlett. It also means Juneau has to avoid its customary five- or six-minute lapse when the Crimson Bears' opponent has been able to make a 15-2 run. The only game this season where Juneau has been able to avoid the sometimes deadly lapse was last Saturday's 76-53 victory over Sitka.
"I don't think they do anything different than we do," Miller said of Bartlett. "They practice every day and they play a couple of times a week, just like us. Since our two losses to Wasilla, we've been building."
"We have to play our game and not let them make us play theirs," Wild said. "We're pretty much over it (the lapses). And we want to play the good teams."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.