Up in the air. Wide open. Up for grabs.
It doesn't matter how you say it, but for the first time in many years, the Juneau-Douglas boys basketball team is not a shoo-in to win the Region V-Class 4A tournament beginning in Ketchikan today.
But the Crimson Bears are still the team to beat. Juneau (14-8 overall, 6-2 in region) earned the region's top-seed and a first-round bye, and plays the winner of today's Sitka-Ketchikan matchup in the Class 4A title game at 9 p.m. Friday.
``Every team and every school is going to be rooting for whoever we play because of what we've done in the past,'' said Crimson Bears coach George Houston, who has guided Juneau to seven straight region crowns. ``That's the burden we have to bear.''
With just three seniors, the Crimson Bears have many new faces that haven't yet experienced the pressure-packed atmosphere of tournament-style basketball. Houston said that is one X-factor facing the team.
``A lot of them don't understand it,'' Houston said. ``They'll see how exciting it is.''
Juneau starts three seniors - forward Evan Tromble, center Rick Carte, and guard John Blasco - but only Tromble has seen significant playing time in tournament play. Tromble averages a team-high 16 points and 10 rebounds a game, and his play will likely dictate the Crimson Bears' success or failure.
Tromble said he took his role of leading Juneau to the state tournament seriously. With just one 4A berth from Southeast, that role has added pressure.
``Juneau doesn't lose Southeast,'' Tromble said. ``It's just one of those things. We don't want to be the ones to lose it.''
Late-season losses may have derailed Juneau a bit, but Houston said that perhaps, with such a young team, it was good to lose a game or two.
``With this team that might not be a bad thing, because we had some easy victories against region opponents early in the year,'' Houston said. ``It could keep us from looking past them to state.''
Juneau lone region blemishes were a 55-45 loss to Sitka and a 71-70 overtime thriller in Ketchikan that featured several big shots under pressure by the Kings.
Ketchikan coach John Brown said that was an important win for his team, which has been plagued by inconsistent play all season. The Kings (3-5, 11-10) are a streaky team, Brown said, oftentimes unbelievably hot from the floor in one quarter, then ice cold the next.
``A lot of it is just a new coach, a new program and learning that new program,'' said Brown, who returned to the Kings' bench this year after a previous stint in the early '80s.
Ketchikan faces a Sitka team that is finally at full strength. During its 55-45 defeat of Juneau March 10, Sitka (3-5, 12-10) was missing two starters and its first two players off the bench. Starting post Michael Schneeberger and starting point guard Dylan Mahosky were out, as were reserves Brian Friske and Charles Van Otten.
``We were at 60 percent'' said coach Sitka coach Bob Potrzuski.
Schneeberger averages about nine points and nine rebounds a game, Potrzuski said, while Mahosky leads the team in assists. Schneeberger is also the team's best defender. Potrzuski said if Schneeberger had guarded Tromble during his 28-point romp in a tight 74-64 Juneau victory last weekend, the outcome might have been different.
``If I would have said, `Mike, stop Tromble.' He'd of stopped Tromble,'' Potrzuski said.
Potruski said now that Juneau isn't such a dominant team this year, his squad is playing harder.
``Last year, when we played Juneau, we felt we had nothing to lose,'' Potrzuski said. ``This year, we feel we have everything to lose.''