They say defense wins championships.
The old adage proved true for the Juneau-Douglas High School boys basketball team Saturday night in the ASAA March Madness Alaska 4A state championship game as the Crimson Bears staved off Dimond High School for their first championship since 1998.
Juneau-Douglas downed Dimond 38-31 by blanketing their opponents with multiple defensive schemes that didn’t allow many open looks.
“I’m still in shock, honestly,” said JDHS senior Guy Bean. “I freaked out as soon as the game ended and I’ve been freaking out since. I can’t really describe how it feels, it’s just amazing.”
“It feels great, it feels really great,” added senior Kaleb Tompkins. “… Anything can happen. Once the final buzzer went off, that’s the only time I knew we won. Even then it didn’t really sink in.”
Down five pointswith a minute to go, Dimond senior Josh Fosi missed an ill-advised 3-pointer and JDHS’ Tompkins passed to Bean, who streaked down the court to earn a foul off of Dimond junior Anthony Parker. Bean hit the deck hard, but bounced up to split his shots from the line.
“We were on a fast break and I think either Kaleb (Tompkins) or Treyson (Ramos) threw it ahead to me and I saw the kid behind me coming up, I didn’t think he would actually foul me and I hit the ground, blacked out for a second and I got up and shot the free throws,” Bean said.
Anthony Parker would miss a step-back 3-pointer and the Lynx would lose their last possession on an over-and-back call leaving six seconds on the clock. JDHS senior Treyson Ramos split his free throws to close the game.
“When Treyson was shooting his free throws and we were up by six and he made the first one, that’s when I knew we were gonna be state champions,” Bean said.
Tompkins led all scorers with 13 points. Bean followed Tomkins in scoring for JDHS with nine, sophomore forward Erik Kelly added six, Ramos and junior forward Bryce Swofford both had four. Senior center Hunter Hickok added a big two points.
Dimond was led in defeat by senior Josh Fosi with 10 points, junior Anthony Parker with eight, junior Eric Jenkins with seven and senior Mason Merchant with two.
Bean was named player of the game for JDHS and Anthony Parker took home the award for Dimond.
JDHS’ offense started slow in their earlier state tournament games. Facing another likely low-scoring game, the boys came out determined to stifle Dimond’s attack, and simply shut down their Cook Inlet Conference opponents in the opening period. JDHS jumped to a six-point lead in the first quarter of a very low-scoring game and headed into the second up 12-6.
JDHS kept the momentum in the second. Swofford got one of his five blocks and Kelly earned a pair of big boards. The Crimson Bears moved the ball patiently on one play before finding an open Hunter Hickok for a huge two points under the basket to put JDHS up 19-10. Dimond’s Parker hit a free throw and a field goal to cut the lead to six, heading to the locker room 19-13.
“We certainly didn’t think the game was going to be played in the 30s,” JDHS coach Robert Casperson said. “That’s not somewhere we’ve played at all this season for a final score. … I didn’t feel like it was an ugly game or a sloppy game, really two teams going at it, playing some great defense.”
The momentum would swing in Dimond’s favor in the third period, as JDHS got called for a charge and Dimond senior Mason Merchant hit a big 3-pointer on the ensuing possession. The Lynx held JDHS to four points in the quarter, and started the fourth down 28-26.
Tompkins summed up the win.
“Swofford held down the paint really well. Treyson played great defense. Erik (Kelly) got that cool dunk. Hunter (Hickok) played solid in the post. Guy Bean came up clutch. Our bench was amazing, too,” he said.
The road to the title
JDHS’ road to the state championship started in late December at the Doc Larson Roundball Classic at Wasilla High School. The Crimson Bears beat West Anchorage by a point and Wasilla by 12, but suffered the first of their two non-conference losses against Nevada’s Coronado High School.
The Crimson Bears then headed home for their annual holiday tournament, the Capital City Classic, and worked their way into the championship with wins over Hydaburg and Sitka. In the tournament’s title game, Washington state’s Kentlake High School scored eight unanswered points in the closing minutes to steal the title from the Crimson Bears’ claws.
The loss to Kentlake marked the last time JDHS fell to any team not named Ketchikan during the rest of the season.
JDHS guards Tompkins and Bean, whose familial relation put the literal family in their team’s self-described “family of teammates,” defined JDHS’ offense early in the season. Tompkins and Bean would take turns leading their team in scoring early on, and their hot shooting clued the Crimson Bears’ family into the fact that they had a chance at greatness.
JDHS would go on a six-game win streak in January, beating Thunder Mountain High School twice, Service High School once, and Kodiak High School twice. Juneau-Douglas averaged 17 points more than their opponents during the streak. The tear would culminate with a Jan. 29 win at Ketchikan High School, then ranked No. 1 in the state, a position the Crimson Bears would soon claim for themselves.
Kayhi, who ended their season ranked second in the state in Win Percentage Index (WPI) — trailing only JDHS — lost to the Crimson Bears 66-63 in the first of five matchups between the two. The Kings would break their rival’s win streak the following night, however, with a 73-57 win over JDHS, setting up a pattern of back-and-forth duals that would test — and galvanize — both units.
The Crimson Bears wouldn’t face another team outside of Region V for the rest of the season, and the level of competition brought by the Ketchikan Kings proved indispensable to their championship development.
“What is it they say about the strongest steel is forged in fire?,” coach Casperson said. “Those guys down in Ketchikan had a great season. We appreciate that it could have been them or somebody else that got this opportunity. We got better because we knew how good they were.”
JDHS would go nearly a month before losing again, taking down both of Sitka’s high schools, Sitka High School and Mt. Edgecumbe High School, three times each. JDHS won both at home and away during the two-week period. The results bore out for JDHS during the middle of their season, they would go on a seven-game win streak, but in the process of building a championship-contending resume, the Crimson Bears would develop a tendency to let big leads dwindle to slim margins late in games.
In a Feb. 25 home game against Mt. Edgecumbe High School, JDHS would let a 20-point lead slip to three points in the closing minutes. The Braves pressed JDHS into turnovers and missed shots down the stretch in a gutsy, inspired performance. The Crimson Bears should have dominated a team they far outmatched in size and skill, and coach Casperson felt the game was a “wake up call” for his guys, knowing that their offense couldn’t afford to slow down at any point during a game.
The February win streak marked another interesting development for the Crimson Bears, as Tompkins’ and Bean’s dominance on the stat sheets would give way to a more overall team performance. Junior Bryce Swofford — a 6’7” defensive powerhouse — began to make his mark offensively during the second half of the season. Senior guard Treyson Ramos and exciting sophomore Erik Kelly showcased their own offensive ability as the season progressed.
“Those guys have been leading scorers at different times during the year,” Casperson said. “A lot of people have been asking me ‘how can you only have one guy on the all-state team,’ … I can understand why other teams had a hard time picking out a second or third guy because it changed game to game.”
The development of JDHS bigs, and the 70-63 wake up call over Mt. Edgecumbe, couldn’t have come at a better time as JDHS next hosted Ketchikan High School for two games at home. The Crimson Bears wore Ketchikan down in the first game, proving to Casperson they had absorbed the lessons from the Mt. Edgecumbe.
JDHS brought intensity and determination to their first matchup, and closed their win against the Kings 72-64.
Though the Crimson Bears put together a good overall performance, they had help from Kelly, who threw down a play-of-the-year, one-handed alley-oop dunk that sucked the air out of Ketchikan’s offense. It was Kelly’s night on Feb. 26, as he led all scorers with 19 points in the win. With the 6’4” and growing Kelly, JDHS added yet another piece to their dangerously well-rounded team.
The Kings proved their own experience and determination in the second game, bringing down their conference rivals 63-69, and setting up a showdown at the conference tournament.
JDHS travelled to Mt. Edgecumbe for a March 5 meeting with Thunder Mountain High School, who the Crimson Bears bested 69-56. TMHS would pull a big upset against Ketchikan in the double elimination tournament, setting up a March 8 meeting with Juneau-Douglas for the conference title and an automatic bid to the state tournament. JDHS would beat TMHS 67-48 in the sixth win over their conference rivals during the season.