There was some pain in the off-season for Juneau-Douglas boys head basketball coach George Houston. More specifically, the pain came from hanging Sitka's 2000-01 Region V title pennant at the end of the line of flags that trails halfway around the JDHS gymnasium.
The Sitka Wolves knocked off top-seeded Juneau 63-57 at last year's region tourney in Sitka, ending the Crimson Bears' run of eight straight region titles.
"It was hard enough to place the order," Houston said, "And it's painful to look at. It's a constant reminder. Last year we had a run of eight years in a row where we won it. There was a tremendous amount of tears in the locker room after the game. That told me it meant a lot. But we'll try to use it as motivation for this year."
The Crimson Bears tip off their 2001-02 season Thursday night at 8 p.m. against last year's state runner-up East Anchorage in Juneau's first game of the Princess-Capital City Classic. Juneau boys action continues Friday at 8 p.m. when the Bears play San Pedro High School from southern California and Saturday at 8 p.m. when Juneau takes on Mills High School, also from California.
The Princess-Capital City Classic is a great season-opener for the Bears, giving them an opportunity to play some strong competition in front of the home crowd.
"We get to play East who is traditionally a powerhouse in Alaska," Houston said. "They (East) have a new head coach. And we'll also get a look at the California teams. It helps to start in a tournament format and helps to start at the Capital City Classic at home. The tournament format alone has been good for us in the past."
East Anchorage is in somewhat of a rebuilding season with first-year coach Ray Ortiz, the third new head coach in four years. The Thunderbirds also sport a roster with nobody taller than 6-foot-3-inches.
Mills boasts an 8-2 record this year and qualified for the Central Coast Sectionals last year with an 8-4 league and a 13-13 overall record. San Pedro is 4-6 this season and posted a 10-15 record last year.
Juneau fans can expect a quicker-paced game than past Crimson Bears' squads as coach Houston plans to exploit his team's speed. Another change from last season will be new uniforms for the players.
"The new uniforms are modeled after Duke's," Houston laughed. "I don't know how that happened, but it's a little bit of a different look."
Gone to graduation from last year is James Severin, who led the Bears in scoring with 16-point average. Juneau will also miss regulars Clay Brown, Leon Bus and Jon Carlo Malacas.
But all is not lost with the return of starters Curtis Lane and co-captians Ryan Monagle and Junior Cumlat, who are all seniors this year. Lane was the Bears second-leading scorer last year with a 12.4 average. Monagle was the Bears third-leading scorer with an 8.1 average as well as the teams' leading rebounder. Cumlat was tied with this year's top reserve Joe Ayers with 2.3 assists per game, leading the Bears last season.
Lane and Cumlat will lead the backcourt again this year, giving the Bears a boost in the speed department. Monagle, with his four years of varsity experience, will start at one of the forward positions.
"Monagle has added range as far as shooting the ball," Houston said. "Hopefully we'll get him out on the perimeter more. Curtis and Junior will be on the court at the same time more this year which could present some problems for other teams. Bigger teams will cause us some problems. Hopefully the quickness we have will take its toll on the other end."
Stepping into the starter's role this year is junior Byron Wild and senior Jacob Miller. Wild grew an inch in the off-season and now stands 6-foot-5 and will start at the post position. Miller, who stands 6-4, will start at the other forward position, and the first team all-state tight end should be able to set some solid screens for his teammates.
Bryan Hamey and Ayers will be the Bears' top reserves this year. Hamey who stands 6-4 will fill in for the forward position and Ayers will swing between guard and forward, giving Houston more options in substitutions. Forward-guards Craig Kitka and Sterling Henderson will also see playing time in a reserve role this year.
"We're not as big overall as last year," Houston said. "Byron Wild has grown a got a little stronger. Sterling and Ayers have spent some time in the weight room and Junior has also lifted some weights which will help him. Everybody has improved since last season. We're just trying to focus on getting better."
Jeff Kasper can be reached at email@example.com.