Juneau has never seen a rivalry like this, especially considering the two teams involved have yet to even play each other in an actual game yet.
But while Juneau-Douglas and Thunder Mountain will square off for the first time on Friday at JDHS, several Crimson Bears players said their fans are going to be out in full force.
"I don't think the crowds are going to be very nice - it doesn't really sound right, but there is no way to stop them," said Bears forward Colin Gozelski. "It's probably going to be the craziest game any of us have ever played in."
Thunder Mountain, in its first year as a basketball program, boasts three top players that transferred from Juneau-Douglas. Each of the three, Cody Grussendorf, Reese Saviers and Jazz King, would have contributed significantly to the Crimson Bears had they stayed at Juneau's downtown school.
"We did lose Cody, who was a starter, and Reese potentially was a starter. So that's two guys," Gozelski said. "Our sophomores have really picked it up for us. Tony (Yadao) and Lance (Ibesate) have really picked it up, and Lawrence (Fenumiai) and (Eric) Sele have been doing really well, also.
"All around, we don't really have one player that sticks out. Everyone has a spot so it all works out pretty good. The ball (distribution) is well balanced around the team."
Senior guard Alex DeRocher said the team definitely has a fresh feel to it compared to last year, especially with the different personnel involved.
"Our style of play is completely different; we've just had to adjust," he said. "Colin and I were supposed to be the go-to guys this year, but like Colin said, the sophomores have picked it up a lot.
"Our best bet is to slow it down, play at our own pace and try to feed it as much as we can to our bigs because that's going to be our strong point."
Gozelski added the biggest difference has really been the style of play.
"Last year, we were more of a run-and-gun team. We'd try to press the whole game, run and get fast-break lay-ups," he said. "This year, since we lost all of our seniors plus the guys that went to TMHS, we've been more of a half-court press team. We slow it down on offense more and run more sets instead of just getting fast-break points."
Both players said the biggest thing about this budding rivalry is going to be facing off against former teammates and classmates.
"We'd do pretty well against each other in practices and stuff, but since we haven't seen them all year, it's going to be really different," DeRocher said. "It's going to show how much each team has improved.
"I think, overall, it's going to be a weird experience at first, but it's a rivalry. It's exciting."
Gozelski said the fact players on each team know one another so well is what makes it such an anticipated matchup.
"These two teams are so evenly matched - that's what makes this so much bigger."
Several Falcons ready to face old school
Whenever a new program is built, it can sometimes take years to reach prominence. But with the basketball talent that transferred from Juneau-Douglas, the Thunder Mountain Falcons have already burst on the scene.
Transfers such as King, Grussendorf and Saviers have each played a major role in the team's success so far this season.
King said through the first couple of games, people may not have been on the same page. But now they're all coming together.
"It's been tough because we're the only three players that have played at the varsity level," he said. "We're trying to get the team gathered around, but trying to figure out how to play the game at that higher level is kind of hard. But it's new and we should be learning it very well."
With a new school opening across town, students had to make the decision as to where they wanted to go. In the case of Grussendorf, it was completely territorial.
"I live on Rivercourt Way, so the school's in my backyard. I went out here last year as a junior and liked the school, liked the community, liked the teachers and just liked the administration," he said. "I got my brother to go to school here too, so it was kind of a family decision.
"So far, no regrets."
In other cases, though, even family loyalty is divided. Saviers transferred to Thunder Mountain, but his younger brother, Cort, remained at JDHS and is a junior on the basketball team.
"Me and my brother have always been really competitive, but my family's Thunder Mountain fans," Reese said. "My cousin Tanya (Nizich) is the (Thunder Mountain) head coach of the girls' team. At family gatherings, I always bring up the games and Cort's always sitting there saying, 'We're going to win,' and our whole family gangs up on him. It's pretty funny.
"I like the rivalry between us and JD already," he continued. "I loved playing at JD because I've played there my whole life and it's been my favorite court for a really long time, so I'm excited to play there again and to play against my old teammates and coaches."
Grussendorf said he's eager to see how the fans - his old fans - react.
"I just can't wait to run out and get booed. It's going to be crazy," he said. "There's going to be so many fans there that just don't want to see us win. We're going to get introduced and I'm thinking we're going to get booed or it's just going to be dead quiet, or they're going to pull the Kayhi newspaper trick where they just pull up newspapers (in front of their faces) and not look at us.
"There's been rumors and stuff, but I don't know what's going to happen. It's going to be epic, that's all I can say."
King said his biggest concern is all the size JDHS has, both in the starting lineup and coming off the bench, and how important it is for the team to stay out of foul trouble.
"They got like five big guys and I'm the only (big man)," he said. "I've been working with my coach to make sure they put up shots they're not comfortable with. Paul (Tupou), Lawrence and Sele are all football players, so they're all big bodies that can bang in there."
Saviers and Grussendorf turned to the 6-foot-2, 245-pound King laughing and said, "Well, what are you?"
King responded, "I got finesse."
Matthew Tynan can be reached at email@example.com.
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