The Juneau-Douglas High School boys basketball team will be in trouble if it thinks the Service Cougars are a typical 3-12 team when the Crimson Bears host Service at 7 p.m. tonight.
Never has a team's record been more deceiving than the record brought to the table tonight by the Cougars, who will also play Friday and Saturday night at Sitka.
"You look at their record and it doesn't say anything about them," Juneau forward Ryan Monagle said after Wednesday night's practice.
"You'd be in trouble if you believed their record and thought they were pushovers," Juneau forward James Severin added. "They can be beat, but I think they're as good as any of those other teams in Anchorage. This is one of those years where any team can beat any team on any given day in this state."
There are many reasons why Service is considered to be much better than its 3-12 record.
Earlier this week, the Cougars had to forfeit three victories when it was discovered one of their players lied about his age and was too old to play high school basketball. Put those victories back in the record and Service is 6-9.
Service also had an undisclosed number of players suspended for games in December and January after a videotaped after-school fight resulted in the the suspensions from school of more than 125 Service students, most for watching the fight. Make a couple of those players eligible for the entire season and maybe Service wins a couple of its close losses and is over the .500 mark.
And, to show Service's true danger, the Cougars are the only Alaska team to beat the defending state champion East Anchorage Thunderbirds this season, and Service did it twice on East's home court (54-50 two Fridays ago in a game later forfeited and 55-54 last Friday). East had been the state's top-ranked team until being passed by unbeaten Kodiak in the current state poll released today (see the complete poll on the Scoreboard on Page 12).
"They're going to create problems because they're patient and they have scores in the 30s and the 40s," Juneau coach George Houston said. "They control the tempo pretty well. There are about five teams up in Anchorage who are all pretty solid teams, the only one that isn't is West, and to beat East twice on East's home floor says they've got to have something."
It's not sure if Service's big gun -- 6-foot-5 forward Zach Tilbury -- will be able to play this weekend after breaking his nose in practice earlier this week. Tilbury didn't play in Service's 55-45 loss to Dimond on Tuesday. But the Cougars will still have some size in their roster with 6-4 forward Jason Orien, 6-4 forward Dustin Grimes and 6-3 forward Mike Auelua, who were the top three scorers for Service on Tuesday.
"They've got some good shooters and they run a lot of time off the clock on offense," Houston said. "We've got to try and get after them defensively. We need to initiate things on the defensive end and get after them on offense. We need to get them to play a quicker tempo than they're comfortable with."
Service returns several players from its team that beat Juneau 77-61 in the opening round of last year's Alaska Prep Shootout at Dimond High School. In that game, Service coach Greg Fullmer emphasized his team's passing game and on a couple of occasions even told players to stop dribbling the ball. Fullmer said later that passes take a team downcourt faster than the dribble, which helps create 2-on-1 and 3-on-2 breaks out of the Cougars' pressing offense.
"I remember they took it to us in the Dimond tourney last year," Severin said. "They like to make you play defense for a long time."
But Severin and Monagle both feel Juneau (9-6 overall) is starting to play some of its best basketball all season after finishing second in the Palmer Elks Club Showdown last weekend. Severin made the offensive all-tournament team and Monagle was on the defensive all-tourney team last weekend for Juneau.
"We definitely came together at the end," Monagle said. "We had a rough start against Chugiak, but we played well against Palmer and Homer and we should have played that way the whole season."
"I think we're playing a lot better as a team now," Severin said.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.