When Juneau-Douglas tips off against Thunder Mountain at JDHS for the first time ever in boys' basketball on Friday, there will be a lot of familiar faces down the benches, starting with the men leading each program.
Crimson Bears coach Steve Potter is currently in his fourth season at Juneau's flagship high school, which has established itself through the years as a state power. After a slow start with a near-complete roster overhaul, the 8-7 Bears have won three straight and six of their last eight.
Potter is a member of the JDHS class of 1983, and he played as a ninth-grader at Marie Drake Junior High.
"After I graduated, I started working (Jim) Hamie's camps in the summertime and when (George) Houston took over, I guess it was '93-'94, they were looking for a C Team coach," Potter said. "Coach Houston talked to me about doing it and I've been here ever since."
Falcons coach John Blasco is a former player under Potter, who was an assistant coach at the time, and an assistant under Potter at JDHS last season. Now Blasco has the job of leading a first-year TMHS basketball program that has already enjoyed a measure of success in its inaugural season. The Falcons are 7-5 overall, with a signature win coming against current Southeast Conference top dog Ketchikan (12-5, 3-1).
Blasco was a student assistant and then the JV coach at Linfield College in Oregon before becoming a varsity assistant for Lake Washington High School in Washington.
Potter said he had his eye on Blasco for a while after he left Juneau. Blasco provided a scouting report of a Washington team that came up for the Capital City Classic, and Potter said it's his knowledge of the game and reputation as a grinder that makes Blasco a good coach.
"He wasn't the most talented player in high school but he stuck with it and worked as hard as he could," he said. "He really didn't play much varsity basketball until his senior year and he ended up starting for us, played big minutes and was a key contributor. He's a testimony for guys that, if you keep working, good things canhappen."
"I figured if I worked hard enough I'd earn a spot. I was never one to sit out for injuries or sickness. I just always felt like I could give it my all on the floor and help my team win," he said. "What I'm trying to get across to these kids now is that I will put in the time and the effort to be successful, and get the most out them to make them successful. I've put a lot of time into working hard for them, and I'm just hoping they'll put the time back in for me."
Blasco said he considers Potter, his first coach as a freshman in high school, a mentor.
"I always really valued him as a coach and when I was done playing for him, I was able to turn to him as a friend. I was very thankful he allowed me to come coach under him a year ago," he said. "He has a lot of knowledge of the game and he's been coaching for quite some time, and I learned a lot from him."
Blasco said the two are very similar in coaching style, though Potter is more of a defensive-minded coach. Both believe in the team-first philosophy.
"Neither one of us care about individual stuff. We only care about making sure the team is successful," he said. "I think the only difference is I have a little bit different approach, I guess just from spending some time outside of Juneau and outside the JDHS program."
Like Blasco, Potter said he wants his players to have fun.
"I like for people to enjoy what they're doing, but I also want them to work hard at what they're doing," he said. "I try and use that as a metaphor for life after basketball: You want to enjoy what you're doing, but you have to work hard at it and take it seriously or you're not going to get the results that you want."
And now, though great friends, they'll have to finally face each other.
"It's certainly going to be a new experience. I've not been involved - not since junior high - in a cross-town game," Potter said. "I think the kids are going to be excited, and they're already talking about it in the halls here. It will be fun. I think we certainly have been aware that these games were on our schedule. You could ask anybody what date other games were and they couldn't tell you.
"But everyone knew that the first time we play Thunder Mountain is February 5."
Potter said he hopes for good crowds to show up at Friday's game at JDHS and Saturday's game at TMHS, and that everyone is respectful, especially toward his former players that transferred.
"I expect there will be good crowds, and I expect that most people will be pretty enthusiastic," he said. "I'm sure there will be some bozos that will be inappropriate. Any time you get a large group of keyed up kids together, somebody is likely to do something you might not exactly like.
"But just by being involved with basketball, we're somewhat competitive by nature," he continued. "It doesn't matter who it is you're competing against. If you're going to compete, you have to give it your best. You never want to lose, period. You want to give the best effort. With kids that have played with us before, we'll certainly look to be victorious."
Blasco said the hardest part for him will be adjusting to his new bench.
"It's tough because I've never sat on that side of the floor before. It will be a new view for me from that end of the court," he said. "I'm a competitor and a coach. My time there was an unbelievable experience, but now I'm the coach at Thunder Mountain and it's time to make these guys successful. I'm going to enjoy the moment and cherish it with coach Potter. I just hope that we put forth our best effort and give the fans a good showing in what everybody's hoping will be a long-time rivalry."
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