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A recent article by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner called North Pole the ``surprise'' boys basketball team of Region VI.
The Patriots finished 18-6 last year and missed a state berth when eventual state runner-up Lathrop hit a buzzer-beating basket in the region's championship game. This season, North Pole was expected to dredge through a rebuilding year after losing nine seniors.
Instead, the Patriots are 7-2, with their only losses coming against top-ranked Lathrop and eighth-ranked Soldotna. North Pole scored a resounding 71-39 victory over Ketchikan at the SoHi Tournament in early January.
Most people thought the same thing about the Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears. But last weekend's convincing victories over Region V-rival Sitka signal Juneau isn't ready to give up its string of seven consecutive Southeast crowns. The two ``rebuilding'' teams meet for a pair of games this Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. at Juneau-Douglas High School.
``We're the talk of the town right,'' North Pole's fourth-year coach Kevin McHenry said. ``We're the surprise team of the year. Nobody gave us much of chance because we lost so many players. Most of the people outside our program thought we'd be in a rebuilding year.''
Juneau (8-6) has been struck by injuries. Forward James Severin had surgery on his fractured left thumb Wednesday, and his status for the rest of the season is uncertain, coach George Houston said. Starting post Rick Carte is ``extremely doubtful'' for a return this weekend from a severely sprained ankle. And forward Jacob Miller will miss this weekend with an ankle injury.
That just means Juneau will go deeper into its bench, Houston said. Freshman Bryan Hamey got his first varsity minutes last weekend and scored seven points during Saturday's defeat of Sitka. Curtis Lane continues to be a spark plug off the bench with his 3-point shooting and hustle, and Leon Bus has provided quality minutes in the post.
Houston said he'll keep his current lineup, with Jon Chapman (5.2 points per game) in the post, and Ryan Monagle (6.4 ppg) and Evan Tromble (14.7 ppg, 9.7 rebounds per game) at forward. John Blasco (4.5 ppg) and Clay Brown (7.5 ppg) start at guard.
Juneau handily defeated North Pole in the second round of the Thunderbird Classic last year. Those were different teams, but the Patriots' style of play hasn't changed - pressure defense, fastbreak offense, shoot the 3-pointer.
The Patriots are led by three returning guards in Andrew Prewitt, Brad Oleson and David Wiehl. All are juniors and Oleson is the tallest at 6-foot-2.
``Their guards are quick and they like to penetrate,'' said Houston. ``They like to penetrate and dish. We're going to have to play some good defense.''
Up front is 6-1 junior post Verdel Drashner, who scored a season-high 22 points last week in a win against West Valley. Senior Daryn Colledge is the tallest Patriot at 6-6 but doesn't start.
``We don't have a lot of size and we don't have a heck of a lot of athletes,'' McHenry said. ``But they use their talents to the best of their abilities. They lay it on the line every game. They're a lot of fun to watch.''