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For the last three months, dedicated and disciplined fifth- through eighth-grade girls and boys from various Southeast Alaska communities have been honing their fundamentals and basketball skills.
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This week HoopTime parents and coordinators, along with basketball programs such as HoopMania from Ketchikan, are traveling with up to 275 middle-school-aged athletes to Sitka to compete in the first of two upcoming basketball tournaments.
Next Wednesday, HoopTime hosts the Southeast Shootout Basketball Tournament in Juneau.
"The tournament is a great chance for the kids to show what they have accomplished in the last two and a half to three months of really hard competitive practicing at Hoop Time," said Daryl Miller, the president of HoopTime Basketball. "After nights and nights and nights of skill building, it gives them the chance to get out on the floor and compete regionally, like they will at the high school level."
As a development program for Juneau-Douglas High School, HoopTime coaches focus on building a foundation of good skills in their young players.
"Practices are repetitive," seventh-grade girls head coach Kathy Stephenson said. "The players do drills, drills, drills and more drills because that is what makes you a better ball player in the end. When the kids come into the program and when they leave the program, our goal is that they are fundamentally more sound, so that then they have a chance to continue later on to play. ... And if they decide that they don't want to, then they still learned the correct way to play."
As the tournaments near, the kids and coaches are getting energized.
"I am very excited for the upcoming tournaments because they will be a great challenge," said Melinda Chamberlin, a 13-year-old seventh grader.
Mike Kelly, the head coach of the seventh grade boys, said the students will enjoy getting out of town and playing other teams.
"I know that they are tired of scrimmaging amongst themselves and the other teams here in town," Kelly said.
"The tournament is new and exciting because you do not know who you are playing," seventh-grade HoopTime player Alec Callaway said. "It is different from our scrimmages here in town because you do not know their style and you never know what they are going to do because this is our first time ever playing them."
HoopTime has 31 teams from Juneau bracketed into six divisions: "A," "B" and "C" for both boys and girls. In years past, HoopTime challenged teams from Prince of Whales, Angoon, Hoonah, Haines, Petersburg and Ketchikan. The players compete, in good sportsman-like fashion, for tournament bragging rights as well as individual honors like in the three-point shooting competition.
"The tournament brings out your game more," seventh-grader Evan Gross said. "It is a different kind of tone of play because there is a lot more competition and it kind of ups the whole energy of play."
The Hooptime players and parents make big sacrifices to practice in the evenings three times per week and give up a portion of their weekend for Saturdays scrimmages. HoopTime is a nonprofit organization that relies on raffle sales and donations from the Fast-Break Club and Rebounders Club at JDHS, as well as Juneau Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, Allen Marine Tours and Princess Cruises.
The double-elimination tournament will run concurrently with the adults' Gold Medal tournament and begins Thursday morning at various locations around Juneau. The championship games will be played on Saturday, March 31, at the new University of Alaska Southeast gymnasium, next to campus in the Auke Bay area.