Juneau-Douglas High School boys basketball players see a big opportunity when they host the Colony Knights at 8 p.m. today and Saturday for homecoming weekend.
The Knights just moved into third place in the WPI (winning percentage index) listings used to seed the Class 4A state tournament, and the sixth-ranked Crimson Bears know a couple of victories will give them a boost in the standings. That's if the Juneau players can avoid the usual homecoming distractions of pep rallies, skits and the homecoming dance.
"We're excited about having them here for homecoming. It'll be a great atmosphere," Juneau junior guard and co-captain Luke Miller said. "It's kind of easy to lose your focus because of all the events in school. But we need to stay focused because this is a good opportunity for us to play the No. 3 team. I'm sure we'll all be pumped up with all the posters and stuff."
"I think there will be pretty good competition this week," Juneau junior swingman Kyle Huntsman said. "But with homecoming there are a lot of distractions."
Colony is 10-6 overall, but is 10-1 against Alaska Class 4A teams and has a WPI of .624. Juneau (7-6 overall, 6-3 vs. Alaska Class 4A teams) ranks sixth with a WPI of .554.
Even though Colony suffered a 59-49 loss to Class 3A power Heritage Christian School on Tuesday, the Knights moved up in the WPI - which rates teams based on the strength of their schedules and the strength of their opponents' schedules - because then-No. 3 West Valley lost to No. 8 Lathrop the same night. Only West Anchorage (.723) and Bartlett (.658) have higher WPIs than Colony.
"I think there are a lot more similarities between the two teams than there are differences," Juneau coach George Houston said. "I do think it will be a good series."
The Crimson Bears and the Knights have developed a nice little rivalry over the years, and they've played at least once each season just about every year since Colony started playing varsity sports in 1992-93. Last year the two teams met at the East Anchorage T-Bird Classic and Colony won 60-55 in overtime, even though Juneau held a seven-point lead entering the fourth quarter.
"We have played them quite a bit over the years, especially back when Chuck (Martin, who is now an assistant coach at Liberty University) was coaching them," Houston said. "They pretty much run the same formula. Jeff (current Colony coach Jeff Bowker) was an assistant for Chuck and for Phil Engebretsen (who took over the team when Martin went to Wasilla in 2000). They're running basically the same formula, with a lot of motion (offense), and there are a lot of similarities to what we're running. It just all comes down to the execution."
So far this season, Juneau and Colony have just two of the same head-to-head opponents. Both teams beat Palmer (Colony won 56-36 and Juneau won 74-37 the next day), and both teams lost to Wasilla (Colony lost 47-39 and Juneau lost 46-37).
During Wednesday night's practice, Houston passed out copies of Colony's roster to each of his players. The seven returning Knights from last year's game at the East tournament were marked: 6-foot-2 senior guard Justin Schwartzbauer, 6-0 senior guard Rhett Magner, 6-1 senior forward Kyle Coffman, 6-2 junior guard Ryan Gray, 6-0 junior guard David Registe, 6-2 junior forward Tim Egger and 6-1 junior forward Tom Creasey.
"They've got seven back, and they're like us with most of their experience in the mid-range players and on the perimeter," Houston said.
In Tuesday's loss to Heritage Christian, Coffman scored 17 points to lead Colony and 6-5 senior guard Cade Dickey added 10. In Colony's weekend sweep over Kodiak, a 52-44 victory on Saturday and a 51-35 win on Friday, Dickey scored 15 points and Schwartzbauer had 11 on Saturday while Dickey was the only Knight in double-figures Friday with 10 points.
As for Juneau, the Crimson Bears will have another weekend with at least one of its forwards on the sidelines. Sophomore 6-4 forward Clae Baker definitely will be sidelined by a sprained ankle, but Huntsman expects to play after missing last weekend's sweep over Sitka because of a sprained ankle. Houston said 6-6 sophomore center Will Egolf is hoping to play, but might still be limited because of a foot injury that spread into his leg. Juneau hasn't had its full lineup available since the Capital City Classic in December.
"It's one of those things where our depth has helped us," Houston said. "We were able to compensate for the losses with our depth. And, as people get healthy again, we'll have to see where people fit back into things."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.