When most schools schedule their homecoming games, they usually find a mediocre opponent so they can give their homecoming crowds an easy victory.
Evidently, someone forgot to pass that formula along to the Juneau-Douglas High School boys basketball team.
The Crimson Bears will host the Lathrop Malemutes in their annual homecoming games at 8 p.m. tonight and Saturday at the JDHS main gym.
It is the same Lathrop team that is ranked fourth in this week's Alaska Sportswriters' High School Basketball Poll. And it's the same Lathrop team that took two-time defending Class 4A state champion Bartlett down to the wire before losing 87-85 on some last-minute free throws last Friday at the East T-Bird Classic.
Nope, no easy homecoming here.
"They've got 10 seniors, they're deep and they just played Bartlett to a two-point game," Juneau coach George Houston said. "They're a pretty talented team. They're different than Bartlett because they're more physical. They're not as quick as Bartlett, but they play pretty hard. This (Lathrop) team right now is in the mix, 1-2-3, of the top teams in the state."
The Crimson Bears (6-6 overall and tied for fifth with Kodiak in this week's poll) had a chance to watch Lathrop (8-3) at the T-Bird Classic, where the Malemutes finished third and Juneau was sixth. Both teams played Bartlett, with Juneau trailing by just seven points late in the third quarter before losing 88-61 to the Golden Bears.
"Basically, they're a good team and they like to shoot the 3 (3-pointer)," Juneau senior guard Alex Heumann said. "Their big guys are pretty good, too."
"It'll definitely be a challenge," Juneau junior swingman Kyle Huntsman added. "We're going to have to outwork them, because they're better athletes than we are. We can definitely beat them, but we need to play to our level. Against Colony (an overtime loss in the fourth-sixth place game of the East T-Bird Classic), we didn't play like we can."
The Crimson Bears were missing senior forward and co-captain Adam Nelson to an Achilles' tendon injury last weekend, so they had to make some adjustments on the fly. Nelson has been slow to recover and is doubtful this weekend, so the other Juneau players will have to step up to replace Nelson's usual double-double.
"If we don't get Adam back we could be in trouble on the glass," Houston said. "Working on blocking out (for rebounds) has been one of the things we've worked on this week."
With Nelson out, sophomore forward Josh Monagle will have to handle most of the work inside the paint. Monagle had three strong games last weekend, but he'll need support from Juneau's other top forwards - senior David Jones, junior Mychal Hutcherson, junior Tom Derbesy and Huntsman.
"I'm feeling like we need to play some more games," Monagle said. "When we really play well together, we can beat anybody. We had Bartlett getting scared when we were down seven points to them in the third quarter. We were making a run, but we kind of gave up in the fourth quarter."
With Lathrop, Juneau faces a team that is one of the best shooting teams in the state. On Tuesday, senior Willie Blackburn was 10-for-13 from the field, including 3-for-3 from the 3-point arc, and his 23 points led the Malemutes to a 74-50 victory over North Pole. All of the Malemutes scored in the game.
Most of Lathrop's players can shoot 3-pointers, and Houston said he saw a tape of one game where four of the five starters hit long shots and the fifth nearly made a couple. Many of the Malemutes were on Lathrop's football team, so they're used to physical contact.
"They all can shoot and their starting five is like a shooting machine," Monagle said.
Lathrop has some height - with center Matt Fisher at 6-6, Stefan Sele at 6-5 and Brian Chilcott at 6-4 - but most of the Malemutes are in the 6-0 to 6-2 range. Besides Blackburn and Fisher, the other expected starters are Mike Titus, Josh Lohrenz and Brock Graziadei. Lathrop coach Milo Griffin is one of Alaska's longest-serving prep coaches and his teams are usually the best in Fairbanks.
"It'll be an interesting weekend, especially with homecoming and what that entails," Houston said.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.