Falcons with a whole new look

Posted: Friday, December 10, 2010

The name on the front of the jersey stayed the same, but the Thunder Mountain boys' basketball team is full of new faces.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Gone is the production from last year's leading scorers Cody Grussendorf and Reese Saviers, and the void left in the middle by Jazz King's departure for Juneau-Douglas leaves the Falcons small inside.

And while it is certain adjustments must be made, second-year head coach John Blasco said the team's new identity will work itself out, even if it takes a few games.

"It's been hard to figure out exactly what we're going to be doing," he said. "We only have four returning players from last year, so we're a brand new team.

"We're changing a lot of things from last year. We have to because we don't have the same personnel or size."

Blasco had the fortune of possessing senior leadership during the program's first year, something most new programs are not so lucky to have. And while Thunder Mountain had the go-to scorers last season, Blasco said his squad will be more balanced this time around.

"We're missing a lot out of Cody and Reese - they were big scorers for us and there's a big gap to fill," he said. "We don't have quite what I would call a go-to scorer. We have a lot of different guys that we have to rely on to put up shots and hopefully get us some buckets.

"But it's going to be much more balanced this year."

One of the players expected to take a leadership role is sophomore Keith Ainsworth, and he said this team is confident in its ability to replace the scoring from last year's team.

"I think we can replace it pretty easily this year," Ainsworth said. "They were really good players, but I think we can keep it up this year - keep things the same."

With the change in personnel comes a change in philosophy as well without a proven scorer or reliable big man to put points on the board, Blasco said.

"We ran a lot of isolation plays last year, but this year it's an offense based around five guys, and that's a good thing," Blasco said. "It's going to be a different pace and it will give the kids a little more freedom.

"The way I look at it, we are a team with 14 guards and the floor is 94 feet," he continued. "Basically what I've been telling the guys is we have to play all 94 feet and it's got to be at a fast pace."

And Blasco said without the size in the middle the pace has to pick up because the team cannot afford to slow down in the halfcourt against the bigger, stronger teams. He said this team's strength lies in its athleticism and ability to get out and run the floor.

Unfortunately for the Falcons, Thunder Mountain shares a conference with two teams that are bigger, stronger and more experienced in Juneau-Douglas and Ketchikan, and Blasco said getting some early games in will be a major benefit.

"We're going to be young and we won't be very experienced at the varsity level. So it's definitely going to be trial by error and we'll have to learn," he said. "So having games now is a really good thing because they're going to have to adapt quickly."

Given the fact this team has only been together for about 10 days, Blasco said his starting lineup has not quite yet been determined. However, he has identified the roles he wants his players to undertake.

"I have a good feeling of who I want to start, but we'll see who's ready to go (today)," he said. "I think I'll write the names up on the board about five minutes before warmups."

Blasco named his primary ball handlers, but added he expects everyone to be able to bring the ball up the floor. After all, he said this was a team of 14 guards.

He said seniors Ben Hotch, John Correa and Josh Jones, along with sophomores Keith Ainsworth and Vili Tupou will be counted on most to take on ball-handling responsibilities, and Ainsworth and Jones will serve as the team's primary swingmen.

But this team is without a true big man - the tallest player on the team is Ainsworth at 6 feet 2 inches - so Blasco said he'll be using some of his bigger bodies, girth-wise, inside.

"There are three or four guys that are going to see minutes, but I don't want to say names yet because it all depends on game situations," he said. "But there are some guys we'll have to throw in there to give us some physicality down low.

"But the key is everybody boxing out so we don't get pushed around on the offensive boards."

Ainsworth echoed his coach's sentiment, stressing the importance of playing as a team and getting bodies on the opposing teams' big men in order to prevent too many second-chance points.

"We need to work together to find some shots. We're a really small team, so, obviously, we're going to have to do a lot of running and get up and down the court," he said. "We have to box out and give it our all, and we have to play defense and try not to let them get a lot of shots up. We need to press them before they can get it up the court.

"We have a lot of speed, so we need to pressure them."

Blasco said the team's first game today against Sitka will be a good test as the Wolves like to pressure defensively and have a good outside and inside game.

The Falcons tip off their second season today at 8 p.m. at Thunder Mountain High School.

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