The roles of individual players on a basketball team are ever-evolving entities, especially when you consider how fleeting a student-athlete’s varsity career can be.
Players come, players go. Others unexpectedly grow into contributors and leaders, as is the case for Juneau-Douglas guard Eddie Hurtte.
The final buzzer had just sounded as the Crimson Bears capped a two-game sweep of then-No. 4 Wasilla, and the JDHS senior guard was celebrating his 18th birthday the best way a player could — with a win — but the night would only get better.
Hurtte was elevated to captain by his teammates immediately following the game, validating a year of hard work he had dedicated himself to after not playing much on last year’s Southeast Conference championship team.
“That was a good birthday for me,” Hurtte said with a smile spreading across his face.
Last year’s squad had a logjam in the backcourt with Victor Wilson and Alex DeRocher, now college freshmen, playing a lot of minutes with up-and-coming guards Lance Ibesate and Tony Yadao.
Hurtte said he knew he’d have a shot his senior year.
“I guess in the offseason I noticed there would be some playing time left, so I knew I needed to step up,” he said. “It feels good to actually be helping out the team, to contribute.
“Going from last year where I’d play scarce minutes to being in there, knowing you can have a big game and affect how the team does, that’s a motivator.”
And Hurtte has contributed significantly as one of coach Steve Potter’s first players off the bench. Now his team has recorded its sixth consecutive state tournament bid and will face North Pole on Thursday in the first round of the ASAA/First National Bank Alaska 2011 State Basketball Championships at Anchorage’s Sullivan Arena.
Hurtte said it’s nice to see the process come full circle after playing such a limited role last season.
“It definitely showed if you’re willing to work hard, you’ll be rewarded,” he said. “Hard work really does pay off if you come together and work as a team.”
As for what that moment felt like when his status was elevated to that of team captain, Hurtte said it felt good knowing his teammates supported him in that role.
“It was something the team wanted. They wanted another person to represent the team as a captain,” he said. “I guess they thought I fit that role, so I took it.”
Potter said Hurtte being named a team captain in the middle of the season was certainly out of the ordinary in comparison to his previous years as coach.
“In the past we’ve had the guys pick captains before the season, and we were missing guys at the beginning of the year and I didn’t think we’d be doing it that way,” he said. “As the year progressed, Eddie was certainly giving us a lift. Actually, it was Ryan (Baldwin) who brought it up and the guys all supported it.”
Potter also said Hurtte epitomizes perseverance in high school hoops. He said it didn’t always go well for his senior guard.
“Eddie struggled last year. It was difficult for him,” Potter said. “But if you put your work in you’ll get your opportunity, and Eddie is a classic example of that.”
Next on the captain’s agenda: help prepare his teammates for what lies ahead. But despite the fact they won the conference tournament once again, the Crimson Bears walked off their court for the final time with a bitter taste in their mouths.
After defeating Ketchikan to win the 4A boys’ bracket of the 2011 Region V 3A/4A Basketball Tournament, the Bears were upended by a determined Mt. Edgecumbe team in the 3A-4A crossover game on Saturday night.
A last-second attempt to tie by Colin Gozelski fell short as Juneau-Douglas lost a 44-42 slugfest for its only home loss of the season.
Hurtte said neither he nor his teammates will forget that night.
“It fired us up. That was a big loss, our only loss on our home court,” he said. “I was ticked off. I knew we could have won the game. I definitely felt disappointed but, once again, I definitely think this game fired us up for what we need to do at state.”
Despite the loss, Hurtte said the team played hard that night against a team JDHS had already split two games with during the season. But the Bears have to eliminate mistakes in tight games such as these, he said.
If the Bears are to have a shot at winning the state title, they’ll have to be on top of their game both mentally and physically.
“It showed when we want to play, we can play hard. But if we zone out we can play really bad,” he said. “It’s up to us how well we do in the state tournament.”
Hurtte said the team is confident, not only in its chances to beat North Pole on Thursday, but to win the whole thing. Still, he and his teammates know it will take a lot of preparation and a little luck to accomplish their ultimate goal.
“North Pole is tough and coach has been really focusing our practices on how they play and how we need to come out against them,” Hurtte said. “We’ve been working on communication because when we play poorly, it’s because of a lack of communication.
“That doesn’t bring a unity to the team,” he continued. “When we do talk, we play a lot better.”
Juneau-Douglas’ strength going into the season was its interior size, and it’s remained that way throughout the year. But the Bears will be tested come Thursday morning against the Patriots, a team that boasts a big front line as well. Potter said North Pole will run a sagging zone defensively, hoping to crowd the Bears’ bigs and force the guards to make shots.
He said that style is similar to what Ketchikan and Thunder Mountain like to do against the Juneau-Douglas offense, but the Patriots are much bigger in the paint.
Hurtte said the team has been going full-bore in practice.
“We’ve been practicing with high intensity and playing the best we can so we are focused and prepared for state,” he said. “It just depends on whether this team is ready to get to work.
“I definitely think we can go all the way if we play to our potential. When we play as hard as we can we’re a very good team, but if we zone out it’ll be like the Mt. Edgecumbe game,” he continued. “It all comes down to how we want to play, and it’s a big week ahead of us.”