The date has been circled on the calendar for quite some time now, and it's finally here.
Juneau-Douglas will face new cross-town rival Thunder Mountain in boys' basketball for the first time on the basketball court tonight at JDHS, and again Saturday at TMHS.
It's game time and best believe, the coaches, teams and fans are ready.
Neither coach has seen much of the other team, but TMHS head man John Blasco is a former Crimson Bear and was an assistant on the JDHS staff last year. Key Falcons Reese Saviers, Cody Grussendorf and Jazz King all clocked varsity minutes for the Bears last year before transferring. These players and coaches know each other well, and no one expects any big surprises.
"I've gotten to watch the Haines game and heard a few things about the West Valley game," Blasco said of his chances to see the Bears in action this year. "But from my understanding, they're not doing anything different than what I played in, or what I coached last year."
Bears coach Steve Potter has also only been able to scout one game in person.
"I saw them play against Petersburg early in the year, and we had a tape of the game against Ketchikan, but it was hard to watch because it was from a hand-held camera. I didn't feel well after watching the game and it wasn't because of how either team played," Potter joked. "We know who the guys that are getting all the notoriety are, and we kind of know what they do. It's the other guys who are more question marks."
Juneau-Douglas' big advantage rests down low, and on the bench. The Bears play 10-12 guys on a regular basis, and are much deeper in the post.
"I think in the Haines game, they played 11 guys consistently," Blasco said. "That's definitely deeper than we normally go. We're going to have smaller guys guarding their big guys. (JDHS's post players are) very tough, very physical, and their role is to get rebounds and put them back up. Jazz is going to have his hands full, along with our other quasi (small and power forwards). Trying to keep them off the block is going to be key."
"We have a lot more size inside," Potter agreed. "Jazz is a nice player and he was really coming along for us. I haven't gotten to see how he's been doing this year. He's not putting up the same numbers as (Saviers and Grussendorf), but he's a skilled offensive player. But we have a lot more bodies inside and we can play two or three at a time."
The Bears also have more ball handlers in the back court.
"They have five or six solid guards and they're very fast," Blasco said. "We've been talking all week about trying to contain them. Full-court defense is going to be a challenge because of how fast they are and how well they handle the ball."
Blasco said his guys will have to take it as a personal challenge when defending Juneau's quick backcourt. Sophomores Lance Ibesate and Tony Yadao are speedsters who both have a knack for making tough shots.
"We may not be as fast, but as a smart defender, if you anticipate you can give ground and beat them to a spot, and hope that slows them down," he said. "You want to make them change direction and go east-west."
Potter said he thinks slowing the tempo will be key for his team, and he will rely on overall team defense to try and limit touches and good shots for Saviers and Grussendorf.
"I don't see there being these key 1-on-1 matchups. We don't guard one guy with one guy," he said. "Sure, we'll put our better defenders on their better players, but we have a lot of guys that can defend and we'll rotate guys through. We're trying to improve our help defense and it's gotten a little bit better as the year's gone on.
"Cody and Reese are both dynamic scorers, so that's something we're going to try to slow down," he continued. "Blasco will get them to play hard and he's intense, so they'll be intense. They're going to get after it, we're going to get after it, and it should be a fun game to watch."
Two key matchups stand out the most. First, former teammates Colin Gozelski and Cody Grussendorf will likely see time defending each other. Both are of a similar size and build, and both are athletic.
"Probably Colin or Victor (Wilson) are the ideal guys I see coach Potter putting on Cody because they're two of the more athletic guys that he has," Blasco said. "They do play good team defense, though, and they'll help, rotate and switch."
Second could perhaps be the most fun matchup to watch: Alex DeRocher and Reese Saviers. Both can light it up on any given night from behind the arc. DeRocher will give away some height but is stronger, where Saviers has a length advantage.
"Definitely the Reese and Alex matchup will be fun to watch because they're both shooters," Blasco said. "They'll both be looking for their shot and they're both tough defenders. Alex is a tough, physical defender, and Reese is a tough, long defender. They're both going to match up really well. Alex has proven that he can drop 30 (points), and so has Reese."
"Reese is a good shooter, and a streak shooter. When he gets it going, you really got to watch out," said Potter. "We're not going to shut anybody out and we'll give up some buckets, even if we're there (defensively). Hopefully, they'll take tough shots."
Potter said keeping the Falcons under 50 points will be key for his team.
"I think if we keep them under 50 points, then we'll be in good shape," he said. "If we're playing in the 80s, then that's not necessarily what we want."
Blasco said his team playing hard from the opening tip to the final whistle is key for the Falcons.
"The keys to a Falcon victory is our team playing 32 minutes of quality basketball the way we've been practicing," he said. "And we can't be distracted by the atmosphere. If we play solid defense and don't get distracted, I think it's going to be a very tough game."
May the best team win.