It's homecoming weekend for the Juneau-Douglas boys basketball team, who play a two-game series against the Ketchikan Kings at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the JDHS main gym.
But the games will have even more meaning for Juneau's four seniors -- forward James Severin, center Leon Bus and guards Clay Brown and Jon Carlo Malacas. It will be the final home weekend of their high school basketball careers, since Juneau is scheduled to be on the road for the rest of its schedule.
"I'm kind of excited, but I'm also sad because it means it's near the end of the season," Malacas said. "We're playing as a team a lot better than we were earlier this season and, toward the end of the season, that's where we need to be."
The games will also be meaningful for Crimson Bears (10-6 overall, 2-0 in Region V-Class 4A action) because Juneau can put itself in the driver's seat as far as the region standings go. But the Crimson Bears are casting a wary eye at Ketchikan (6-9 overall, 0-2 region), even though the Kings are a deceptive 0-7 against Alaska Class 4A schools this season.
"They've got some players who can play," Severin said. "Their record may not be that good, but you can't look at them like that. These are important league games and we really want to get that bye in the region tournament. If we win these two games we'll be in a lot better position."
"We've got six (regular-season) games left this season, and our last four are on the road," Juneau coach George Houston said. "We certainly want to hold serve at home. For region seeding, we really want to get that bye so hopefully we don't have to be in that play-in game. Besides, the last time we played these guys they beat us at the buzzer in overtime."
The Crimson Bears posted a 3-1 record against Ketchikan last year, but the one loss highlights how dangerous the Kings can be. Ketchikan coach John Brown said his depth is down a bit because of injuries and the recent death of starting guard Braden Sharp's grandmother (Sharp won't make the trip to Juneau this weekend), but Ketchikan always looks forward to playing eight-time defending region champion Crimson Bears.
"We're looking forward to this weekend," Brown said. "Obviously Juneau is the standard that everyone in the region gauges themselves against, and we're hoping to play well. If I could sneak one out in Juneau I'd be very happy. We've been playing fairly well of late, and if things drop for us we might be competitive."
Ketchikan will be a little bigger than Juneau, with 6-foot-4 forwards Brandon Nicholas (12 points a game) and Jesse Richardson (14 ppg) sharing duties down low and 6-1 small forward Kenny Terpsma (16.5 ppg) leading the team in scoring. T.J. Milner, a 5-10 point guard, will provide a steady presence on offense and Russell Miller will take Sharp's position as the two-guard. Calin Bjur, a 6-3 sophomore forward, will be the first player to come off the bench.
"We went from being a fairly deep team to being pretty thin, especially at guard," Brown said. "I might go big this week. It's hard to tell how we'll do. We're kind of a psycho team. One night we'll play (defending Class 4A state champion) East Anchorage down to the nubs, and the next night we don't play well at all. I'm not sure which team I'll have this weekend."
The two games this weekend will be Ketchikan's eighth and ninth games during a 13-day stretch. The Kings played four games up in Anchorage and Palmer two weekends ago, then played three games in its own First City Prep Shootout tournament last weekend. Ketchikan posted an 0-4 record on its trip north, then took second place in its tourney with a 2-1 record.
Juneau, which has won its last three games, has been playing better of late, especially when it switches to a three-guard offense. The switch allows Juneau to use one of its strengths, as five guards rotate through the three positions, and it gives the Crimson Bears a faster lineup. But there's still room for improvement, Houston said.
"For a little bit, we've showed improvement," Houston said. "But then we shoot ourselves in the foot. At this point, we've played 16 games so experience shouldn't be a factor."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.