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After the graduation or transfer of several key players from the 2008-09 state qualifier boys' basketball team, Juneau-Douglas will have a decidedly different look this season.
But the Crimson Bears aren't rebuilding so much as they are retooling, and the season begins tonight inWasilla.
Six-foot-3 junior wing Colin Gozelski is the leading returning scorer from last year, when he was fourth on the team with an average of 6.3 points per game. Six-foot-2 senior forward Paul Tupou is next in line with an average of one point per game through 23 games last season, so the Bears must replace nearly 86 percent of their scoring punch.
Fourth-year coach Steve Potter thinks this year's edition is up to the task.
"A lot of these guys have been in the program on the JV level either last year or in the past," he said. "We only have two completely newcomers ... and everybody else has been with the program. I thought that the way things were working last year with some of the guys that decided to switch (to Thunder Mountain), I thought we were going to have some experienced continuity, but it didn't work out that way.
"Everybody is finding new roles," he continued. "We've got a bunch of guys who were used to being the supporting pieces. Now we're trying to figure out who's going to take over those leadership spots."
Potter said the starting lineup is not quite "locked in" yet, but he plans to go about nine deep with his substitutions early on.
"It depends on what the tempo of the game is like," he said. "If we can get into an up-tempo game where we're in control, then we can rotate a lot of guys through."
Seniors Victor Wilson, 6-foot, and Lance Ibesate, 5-foot-6, will see the bulk of time at the point. Senior Alex DeRocher and sophomore Tony Yadao, both 5-foot-9, will handle shooting guard, while Gozelski will see the bulk of minutes on the wing.
"Seniors will probably get the nod early because they're bigger and stronger, but the sophomores are going to push them for playing time," Potter said of his probable substitution pattern.
Potter said this team will look most different in the post because he has several big bodies at his disposal, which is normally not the case. Seniors Lawrence Fenumiai, 6-foot-4, Paul Tupou, 6-foot-2, and Eric Sele, 6-foot-2, were all stand-outs for the Crimson Bears football team, and each has the kind of size to bang inside. Six-foot-6 sophomore Evan Gross is the Bears' tallest option in the middle.
"Traditionally, we've been a running team. This year, with all the size that we have - not so much height as much as big bodies - we'll just have to see," Potter said of the team's new offensive identity. "We're certainly going to try and push the ball to get something. If we don't get it, we've got a couple of sets that we can run and go into our half-court offense.
"We had a lot of really good shooters last year ... and we got a lot of open looks. I don't know if that's going to happen this year."
The Bears play a man-to-man defense, and Potter said they plan on picking up the pressure full court.
"It really depends on our matchups," he said. "If we play a team with five guards, that might not work out so well for us."
Potter said its anyone's guess who should be the favorite to win the coveted state berth from the region tournament, but the Bears are the defending champions so Ketchikan and Thunder Mountain will have to go through Juneau's downtown team to get there.
"Ketchikan is fast, they press a lot and they have a lot of shooters. Any open three (-pointer) is a good three for them," he said. "They played really hard wire-to-wire last year and their JV beat us three out of four, and their C team beat us all four times. They lost a lot from their varsity, but their young guys were beating our younger guys.
"Obviously, Thunder Mountain has Jazz (King), Cody (Grussendorf) and Reese (Saviers), and they'll go as far as those three guys can carry them," he continued. "I think that (John) Blasco is a really good coach, and he'll get those other guys involved. But those top three guys are battle-tested."
Potter said questions abound with this team, but he feels there is a lot of potential and room to grow.
"That's not a known quantity yet," he said of what this team's calling card and identity will be. "We're trying to figure that out in practice and we're discovering things about ourselves. I think it's a good thing for us that we didn't play early. A lot of teams played last weekend, but I don't think we were ready for a game last weekend.
"We have good to very good guards, and our big guys are certainly solid," he continued. "We've got some real potential for growth with a couple of the guys. We've got different pieces and we can do different things, it's just we have to figure out what's going to work bestfor us."