New coach leads JDHS into battle

Steve Potter takes over a talented team stacked with height and athleticism

Posted: Tuesday, December 26, 2006

New Juneau-Douglas High School boys basketball coach Steve Potter isn't the most animated coach, but that doesn't mean he isn't intense. Potter's face scowls as he watches his team practice.

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He doesn't scream, but a raised voice on a single word like "now" or "go" gets his point across.

As a long-time junior varsity coach and assistant to the now retired George Houston, Potter spent games observing on the bench while his more exuberant boss called the shots. This year, however, Potter can expect a lot more eyes focused his way as he takes the reigns of the program. Potter, a calculus teacher at JDHS, was named head coach about two weeks following Houston's retirement in April.

Potter and his Crimson Bears make their season debut 8 p.m. Wednesday against the Spokane, Wash., NBC Thunder, a collection of all-star players, in the Capital City Classic.

"I'm enjoying the heck out of it," Potter said of being the varsity coach. "There's a lot of other things that go on behind the scenes I wasn't aware of."

While taking responsibility for an entire program is a new experience for Potter, his transition should be made a bit easier by a roster full of experienced and explosive athletes.

Leading the way for JDHS is 6-foot-9 forward Will Egolf.

The senior led the Crimson Bears in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots last season as JDHS finished fourth in the state. He was a first-team all-state selection last year and in November accepted a full scholarship to play NCAA Division I basketball for Bradley University.

"He's a complete player," Potter said. "He can score in the post. ... If teams take that part of his game away to see the other part, they may feel they have accomplished something, but his mid-range game is very good."

Egolf fine-tuned his game over the summer by playing with a traveling Amateur Athletic Union team out of California.

The senior can dunk over opponents or step outside and drain a soft 15-foot jumper. His game ranks him among Alaska's best players, but the team will also need him to be a leader.

"When people get tired, that I'm the guy that picks them up," Egolf said of his role as a leader. "When they look at me, just make sure I don't show fatigue and I'm always pushing."

Egolf leads a powerful frontcourt that figures to be Juneau-Douglas' strength this season.

Senior Clae Baker, a 6-foot-6 center, returns after a breakout junior season. Baker's toughness and rebounding ability gives JDHS a true big man who can patrol the paint.

"I think he's a kid that brings intensity every time he steps on the floor," Potter said of Baker. "Last year, we fed off his intensity. He's not a verbal leader, but with his actions he goes as hard as anybody. ... If teams focus on stopping Will, Clae could have some big games because he can score."

Joining Egolf and Baker in the frontcourt are a number of experienced, strong players.

Faifo Levale, a bulky 6-foot junior, can rebound and set devastating screens while sophomore Eric Gross and junior Zach Heppner have rapidly improved.

One player singled out for his work in the offseason is senior Cameron Cook. He played sparingly as a junior last season but could play an integral role in Juneau's fortunes this season.

"He's improved a lot," Egolf said of Cook. "I love playing with him. Sometimes it doesn't look like he make the all-star plays, but he's always in the right place and getting the right rebounds."

Juniors Ryan Larson and Sam Clark bring versatility and can play multiple position while sophomore Geoff Craig brings energy and defense.

While the Crimson Bears' strength clearly lies with its looming forwards, how well the team plays may depend their point guards. Nico Saldivar, Bryan Combs and Shawn Ibesate will share time as point guard and will be responsible for protecting and distributing the ball. Saldivar, a senior, replaces his brother, Tres, who graduated last season.

"I've got to fill the role my brother filled, especially on the defensive side," Saldivar said. "I have to step up there."

JDHS schedule

Home games in bold

Dec. 27-29 Cap. City Classic

Jan. 5-6 at Sitka

Jan. 10 at Bartlett

Jan. 11-13 at West Tourn.

Jan. 19-20 vs. Ketchikan

Jan. 26-27 vs. Dimond

Feb. 1 at West Valley

Feb. 2 at North Pole

Feb. 3 at Lathrop

Feb. 16-17 vs. West Valley

Feb. 23-24 vs. Sitka

March 2-3 at Ketchikan

March 7-10 at SE Region in Sitka

March 21-24 at State Tourn. in Anchorage

The speedy Saldivar played mostly in a reserve role last season and will be asked to shoulder more of the load. Combs joins the Crimson Bears after playing with Class 3A Haines last season. The senior may not have the speed of Saldivar, but he brings basketball savvy and the experience of logging major minutes in Class 3A.

"The competition here is a lot better," Combs said. "You have to work for your spot here while in Haines I was kind of given a spot. Here you have to work a lot harder."

Ibesate played mostly on the junior varsity last season and brings quickness and long-range shooting to the team.

How well they handle the pressure and get the ball to their interior scorers may play a significant role in how far Juneau's goes this season. Junior Dominique Brinson, senior Robert Beierly and junior Billy Sarandria will fight for time at shooting guard. They're ability to stretch the opposing defense with jump shots will take a lot of pressure of Egolf and Baker inside and give JDHS a more diversified attack.

With lots of returning talent, expectations should be high for the Crimson Bears this season. In fact, Sports Illustrated's Web site recently labeled Juneau-Douglas as Alaska's best boys team with Egolf the state's top player.

Predictions and speculations mean very little, however, until Potter's team shows what it can do on the floor. That journey starts Wednesday.

"We're certainly looking to go to the state tournament and do well," Potter said. "If we do what we should we could be right there, but that's such a long way away right now."

Meet the Crimson Bears

The Juneau-Douglas High School varsity boys basketball team

• Will Egolf, sr.

• Clae Baker, sr.

• Cameron Cook, sr.

• Faifo Levale, jr.

• Eric Gross, so.

• Zach Heppner, jr.

• Dominique Brinson, jr.

• Ryan Larson, jr.

• Sam Clark, jr.

• Geoff Craig, so.

• Robert Beierly, sr.

• Nico Saldivar, sr.

• Bryan Combs, sr.

• Shawn Ibesate, jr.

• Billy Sarandria, jr.

• Head coach Steve Potter

• Assistant coach Robert Casperson

• Assistant coach Steve Brandner

• Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at

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