With the final home games of their high school careers set for this weekend, the six seniors on the Juneau-Douglas boys basketball team were more animated than usual during practice on Wednesday night.
The Crimson Bears host the Ketchikan Kings at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, the last two times seniors Joe Ayers, Sterling Henderson, Bryan Hamey, Byron Wild, Nik Hura and Kolt Garvey will get to play in front of a home crowd at JDHS. Not only will it be their final homecourt appearance, but a sweep this weekend means Juneau can clinch the regular-season Region V-Class 4A title and a first-round bye in the region tournament March 12-15 in Ketchikan.
"We're just focused on getting two wins and enjoying Senior Night," Hamey said. "We want to build our momentum for the postseason."
"I think we're looking forward," said Henderson, who was especially enthusiastic during Wednesday's practice, screaming each time he made a shot or grabbed a rebound. "This is our last chance to be playing here."
The Crimson Bears (11-8 overall, 3-1 in region) have been especially strong at home in recent years, with the three seniors who saw varsity time as freshmen - Ayers, Hamey and Henderson - losing just one region game at home their high school careers, a 55-45 loss to Sitka in the 1999-2000 season. This year Juneau has lost just once at home, last Saturday's 85-84 overtime decision to the East Anchorage Thunderbirds.
"That's always our goal, to play as well as we can at home," Ayers said. "I don't know how much more intense these games can be. These are really important games, our last ones at home and they give us a chance to win the region title."
"This is how we're going to be remembered," Wild said. "We're focused on Ketchikan. We've got this (weekend's games), then Sitka (on the road next weekend), and that's it."
Ayers, Henderson and Hamey are four-year varsity players, while Wild moved up to the varsity his sophomore year. Hura moved to Juneau from Haines two years ago, but said he knew most of the other Juneau players in grade school, and even lost to Henderson in a free-throw shooting contest when he was 8 years old. Garvey played for Craig last year and this is his first season with the Crimson Bears.
"It was pretty easy for me, since I'd been playing with them for so many years," Hura said of his transition to the Crimson Bears.
"We're kind of like a family," Garvey said. "We really want to win for these four guys, who have been together for so many years."
Over the past four years, the Crimson Bears haven't had too many problems winning region games at home, with most of them being decided by more than 20 points.
Juneau will face a Ketchikan team that pulled off an upset over the Crimson Bears in Ketchikan, winning 63-62 on Jan. 31 - the Kings' first victory over Juneau in three years. Juneau came back to win 82-64 on Feb. 1, but the Crimson Bears are still smarting from the loss.
In the loss, Juneau fell behind early and trailed most of the game. But the Crimson Bears rallied to take a five-point lead with a minute left, only to lose the game when Hamey fouled senior forward Calin Bjur as time ran out and Bjur made the winning free throw with no time on the clock.
Many of the Juneau players talked about the disappointment of losing and about their intentions for this weekend, but they kept their comments off the record to avoid them being posted in Ketchikan's locker room as inspirational material.
Ketchikan (8-9 overall, 4-2 region) swept two games from the Sitka Wolves last weekend, winning 60-48 on Friday and 62-42 on Saturday.
In Friday's game, the Kings and Wolves were tied 29-29 at halftime before Ketchikan pulled away. Bjur led the Kings with 17 points, while senior guard Bob Boyd and sophomore forward Tyler Richardson scored 14 points each. On Saturday, Ketchikan jumped out to a 31-13 halftime lead and cruised the rest of the way. Boyd led the Kings with 17 points, with Bjur adding 16 and Richardson 14.
"Ketchikan looked really good Saturday night against Sitka," Juneau coach George Houston said. "It's been awhile since we've lost a conference game here. But it had been awhile since we'd lost to Ketchikan. If we can get these two games we get the league title. I'd like to get back on the winning side after East."
"We have to be ready for them," Ketchikan coach John Brown told the Ketchikan Daily News when asked about the Juneau series. "It's different when you play up there. And they're going to get after us right away."
The Juneau and Ketchikan C teams will play games at 4:15 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, while the junior varsity squads play at 6:15 p.m. each night. The varsity games will be broadcast in Juneau on KINY radio, 800 AM.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.