Super sophs

Yadao and Ibesate help propel the Bears into the state tourney

Posted: Sunday, March 14, 2010

Oftentimes, regardless of sport, a team's season can be defined a few special moments.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

In the final 21 seconds of the Southeast Conference championship game on March 6, it wasn't the sharp-shooting of senior guard Alex DeRocher that came through, nor was it the all-around versatility of junior swingman Colin Gozelski.

With a state tournament berth on the line, it was the clutch baskets by two unexpected heroes that sent the Crimson Bear boys' basketball team to state, and the heavily favored Ketchikan Kings to an early offseason.

Along with DeRocher's game-winner against the Kings on the tournament's second day, sophomore guards Lance Ibesate and Tony Yadao came up with two of the biggest, season-defining plays that will long be remembered.

Ibesate described his shot the sent the Bears to state over a larger defender in Tyller Bell as if he had done it before.

"I just wanted to attack him from the shoulder and try to draw the foul if anything," Ibesate said. "But I just sprinted with the ball and went up for the left-handed lay-up."

It was that kind of composure that gave Juneau-Douglas coach Steve Potter the confidence to have his two young perimeter players in the game during the most crucial point in the team's season.

And they rewarded him.

Ibesate's lay-up came with only three seconds remaining and just 18 ticks earlier, Yadao hit a 3-pointer to tie the game, setting up the stunning final seconds.

"So far, it's been the biggest shot (of my career). I was just surprised that they found me and that I was that wide open," Yadao said of his triple from the top of the key. "That was the shot all my teammates needed me to make, so I had to make it."

Though DeRocher and Gozelski certainly had their impact on the game, it was the two underclassmen that stepped up when the Kings chose to focus on stopping the Bears' top two scorers.

Yadao said he'll always be ready.

"It lets me know that since I was able to do it before," he said, "they will look for me to do it again."

It's that kind of confidence that caused Ketchikan coach Eric Stockhausen to take notice early in the season.

"Yadao is going to be a monster by the time he graduates," Stockhausen said Friday. "He's got it all. After the first time we played them, all I put on our scouting report is that he's a player.

"Lance is very quick and made a great play at a crucial time," Stockhausen continued. "The lay-up he made was crazy."

Stockhausen said he talked to Potter early in the season, raving about the kind of player he thinks Yadao can be.

"I've been saying this since the second game we played them. I said, 'This kid (Yadao) will be All-State when he's a senior, no question."

Yadao, whose soft-spoken persona belies his tendency to convert on athletic circus shots, as well as the open 3-pointer, said the experience the two guards are gaining is invaluable.

To them, this is not just another trip to state.

"It's a really big deal because last year, even though we were on the team, we didn't really get to feel the pressure for playing in the game," Yadao said. "So this year, we'll get the feel for that."

Ibesate echoed that thought, adding that both players knew they had to step it up this season.

"Last year, we had a lot of leadership, but a lot of them left or graduated," he said. "And as a backup point guard, I always need to talk and know where people are."

While it is obvious that both possess great basketball skills, they know they are still growing as players.

"In a couple of years we should, hopefully, be better because of the experience," Ibesate said.

However, both said they are focused on the current season. After all, a matchup against Wasilla at 5 p.m. on Monday in Anchorage's Sullivan Arena looms.

"We need to step it up a little bit more," Ibesate said. "Every game we need to get better and better and keep doing what we're doing."

Yadao's message - always succinct in its delivery - was one the Crimson Bears have lived by through the entire season: "Give everything we have, and no regrets when we're done."

Regardless of the outcome at state, these two sophomores should have no regrets. In a season defined by a few big plays at the most crucial of times, theirs' truly stand out.

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