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January was a long, strange trip for the Juneau-Douglas High School boys basketball team, which traveled in planes, ferries and team vans with no home games for the month.
But now it's February, and that means the Crimson Bears finally get to play at home. The Crimson Bears host the Sitka Wolves for a pair of Southeast Conference-Class 4A games tonight and Saturday at the JDHS main gym. The varsity games start at 8 p.m. each night, with JV at 6:15 p.m. and the C team games at 4:30 p.m.
"We've had a lot of road games," Juneau senior point guard Larry Cooper said during Wednesday's practice. "We were getting tired a lot. Traveling wears you out."
"It seems like a long stretch, and it's been a long stretch," Juneau head coach George Houston said. "Some of these guys went with the JV team to Skagway (on Jan. 6-8), so for them it's been four weeks in a row on the road."
The Crimson Bears (5-6 overall, 1-1 SE) could use the comforts of home this weekend. Juneau's last home games were Dec. 27-30 in the Capital City Classic - last year if you want to be technical. And on two of their three road trips the past month, the Crimson Bears had their flights diverted by weather so their journeys became even longer.
Juneau went 1-3 on its first road trip, which included a tournament in Anchorage against a pair of nationally ranked teams. Next, the Crimson Bears went to Ketchikan and split a series, only to have their flight home diverted to Wrangell because of weather. The team hitched a ride the rest of the way on the ferry.
Finally, Juneau's third road trip became a nightmare as the team's flight to Anchorage couldn't land in Juneau because of a malfunctioning GPS and fog. The Crimson Bears wound up taking a flight to Seattle, via Sitka and Ketchikan, to see if there was a better connection to Anchorage, and ended up stopping back in Juneau before finally making it to Anchorage too late for their scheduled game with Lathrop. The Crimson Bears went 1-1 in the games they played, giving them a 3-5 record for the month.
Juneau girls at Sitka
The Crimson Bears will have to contain the Wolves' star center . . . . . here
"I think we could have done better," Cooper said. "That Wasilla game (a 46-37 loss on Saturday), it was close at halftime and it was there for the taking. We just didn't go out and get it. We should have been at least .500. We've got to be more aggressive."
To top it off, the missed game in Anchorage means Juneau will add another road trip to its schedule later this month. Houston said Thursday that the Crimson Bears will head to Fairbanks to play two games against Lathrop, most likely on Thursday and Friday, Feb. 17-18, with the possibility of a Saturday, Feb. 19, game against North Pole or West Valley being added to the trip.
Houston also said the Alaska School Activities Association confirmed that it will not count the "forfeit" loss Juneau was given against Lathrop by the Bartlett tournament committee in the Winning Percentage Index used to seed the state tournament or in Juneau's overall record.
"It could have been worse," Houston said, adding that the players got through the back-to-back-to-back road trips with few academic problems. "It wasn't that major because after Ketchikan we had a new semester. If these trips had been all at the end of a semester, it could have been a lot worse."
Now that they're home, the Crimson Bears will face a Sitka team that's having to adjust to the loss of point guard Mark Manuel for the rest of the season because of rules violations. Last weekend, the Wolves (7-4 overall, 0-0 SE) were at the East Anchorage T-Bird Classic where they posted a 1-2 record and took fifth place in their first trip without Manuel.
Andrew Broschat and Manfred Bekeris, who are both 6-foot-3 seniors, took turns leading Sitka in scoring at the East tournament, while E.B. Crow also had a game in double-figure scoring. Among common opponents, Juneau crushed Palmer, which split a two-game series in Sitka, and both teams have beaten Service.
"I've seen Juneau play, and they're a typical Juneau team. They've got a big guy in the middle, who's young and developing," Sitka coach Mike Blewett said. "I feel this year there's more parity between Juneau, Ketchikan and us, but with the loss of Manuel we're having to adjust."
The Crimson Bears got senior forward Mychal Hutcherson back last week after he spent two weeks catching up on his grades, and Hutcherson joined Cooper on the all-tournament team at Bartlett. This week, Juneau will add junior forward Bryan Ryder to its lineup after he missed three weeks with a broken left thumb.
"It was a great way to come back to the team and boost our confidence," Hutcherson said. "The first game back I missed every jumper I took, but the second night I got better. It was one of those things where it brought us down because we traveled a lot and we're weary, but it's no excuse for losing."
"The hardest part was practicing and not being able to play or travel," Ryder said. "All I could do was ride the bike and do shootarounds. But the thumb healed in three weeks."
The Crimson Bears will need those two players back in the lineup, because their top two scorers this season may miss the weekend due to injuries. Sophomore center Will Egolf has a toe problem that's worked up his foot and into his leg and knee, so Houston said Egolf will sit for precautionary reasons. And Wednesday night, junior forward Kyle Huntsman sprained his ankle badly enough that he missed school on Thursday.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.