Crimson Bears coach Steve Potter isn't quite sure what to expect against Eagle River this weekend, and it's not just because his team has never played the Wolves before.
The Juneau-Douglas High School varsity boys basketball team will face an unknown, yet large nemesis when fellow 4A squad Eagle River and their 6-foot-8 center Eli Yaw invade tonight and Saturday. At least, that's Yaw's listed height.
"It's high school, so it kind of depends on how big of a 6-foot-8 he is," JDHS head coach Steve Potter said. "That can mean anything from 6-foot-5 to 6-foot-10 in my experience. We've faced big guys this year, but (Yaw is) really a true inside guy so it doesn't really translate."
The Crimson Bears (10-5 overall, 0-2 Southeast Conference) are not planning on double-teaming Yaw to start the game, and Potter is hoping his bigs won't need too much help from his depleted perimeter rotation.
The Wolves (5-8 overall, 2-4 Cook Inlet Conference) run their offense through Yaw, though, and will be looking to force JDHS to bring extra help. The big man will get plenty of touches down low and has shown he knows what to do with the ball by his averages of nearly 23 points and 10 rebounds per game this season.
"We know our bread and butter is feeding the big guy," third-year ERHS head coach Craig Harrison said. "We're still an opportunistic team, though. We'll run if we get the opportunities."
When Yaw is forced to pass out of the post, Harrison is confident his perimeter players are skilled enough to punish the Juneau-Douglas pressure.
"We've got quite a few guys scoring about 10 or 12 a game that can carry the load," Harrison said.
Eli's younger brother and sophomore Nate Yaw provides the team with a different sort of perimeter support. Harrison describes Eli as a sort of "handy man" who can mix it up down low or pop outside for a jumper.
"He rebounds, he scores and he plays great defense. Every team needs one of those guys," Harrison said.
Juneau-Douglas' own "handy man," senior wing Alex Fagerstrom, will again be on the sidelines after missing most of last week's games with a sprained ankle. Junior point guard Reese Saviers is also questionable after fighting through an illness and also missing the majority of last week's five-game road trip. In the long run, Potter is looking at the temporary loss of those two major players as a blessing in disguise.
"(The injuries) certainly expanded the opportunities for some guys. (Freshmen guards) Lance Ibesate and Tony Yadao both got a lot more minutes than I had envisioned," Potter said. "Our freshmen don't usually get in the game unless we're up 30 or down 30. They got in the second half of several games and contributed to wins. I've got increased confidence in both of them."
While the freshmen are catching some minutes off the bench, usual sixth man and junior guard Alex DeRocher stepped seamlessly into the starting lineup for two of the team's games up north and Potter expects him to keep that slot.
"Who starts and doesn't start might mean something to the kids, but not much to me," Potter said. "Whoever's playing the best that night will be out there at the end."
The JDHS coach credits last week's lengthy road trip for more than opening his rotation, he said the extended time together - including a makeshift Super Bowl party - helped bring the team's chemistry to a new high point that is visible on the court.
The junior varsity and "C" teams will also be in action tonight and Saturday, but they will be playing Sitka's younger squads. The "C" teams will tip off at 4:15 p.m. each night, with the junior varsity following at 6:15 p.m. and the varsity games capping the lineups at 8 p.m.
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