Less than a week has passed since the Ketchikan boys basketball team was crowned state champions. The Kings’ 57-53 overtime win over Dimond last Saturday night in Anchorage marked the final game of the high school season, and yet, I’m not ready to move on from the sport that’s consumed my life for the past three months.
I’ve said it before — covering basketball is a highlight of this job.
I like the intensity of the games and the strategy employed by the coaches. I like the fact businesses in the community fork over the funds for a giant scoreboard that can show video replays and wake up the neighbors with its obnoxiously loud buzzer. I like the fact that Hall of Fame coach George Houston comes to every home game and three out of the four basketball teams in town have a Twitter account, because, well, why not?
So, as I turn the page on the 2018-19 season, here’s three highlights of another winter covering hoops.
1. Glory from a different territory
I wrote a story for the Christmas morning paper on the Maine-Endwell Spartans, a New York team that participated in this year’s Capital City Classic. While speaking over the phone to the team’s head coach, I mentioned my dad grew up in the Juneau-sized town of Oswego, about 100 miles north of the location of his high school in Endwell.
Coach Bill Ockner was a bit stunned by the strange coincidence, and I felt emboldened to share some more of my family history with him. I mentioned how my grandfather was inducted into his high school’s sports hall of fame. Ockner couldn’t believe it, given his school regularly plays against schools in my grandfather’s hometown of Corning.
He set out to find my grandfather’s hall of fame plaque, and three weeks after the tournament he texted me a photo of a plaque of the “Corning-Painted Post Sports Hall of Fame Track & X-Country” which contained my grandpa’s name, Jack Ainsworth.
Thanks to Coach Ockner, I now know Grandpa Jack was a “pioneer cross-country runner who in 1938 was named to the All-Sectional team.”
2. Region V Madness
I had so much fun at last year’s Region V Basketball Tournament, I thought for sure this year’s tournament in Sitka wouldn’t be able to stack up. I was wrong.
Walking into the B.J. McGillis Gymnasium at Mt. Edgecumbe High School — the site of all 30 tournament games — was like visiting a basketball museum. The names of Southeast basketball legends like Gil Truitt appeared in block letters on Hall of Fame banners, and the entire gym had a special buzz.
Everything seemed raised up a notch in this tournament — the stakes that came with every game, the volume of the pep bands, the cries of fans disputing an official’s call. Even the basketball court itself was higher than the rest of the gym’s floor, softening the blow when players came tumbling to the court while diving for a loose ball.
3. Long live the Kings
There was an apt amount of hype surrounding the Ketchikan boys this season. The Lee brothers — first-team all-state point guard Marcus and third-team all-state shooting guard Chris — and every single other member of last year’s team was back.
The Kings lived up to the hype and then some, winning their first state title in over four decades with their epic upsets of top-seeded East Anchorage and No. 3 seed Dimond at the state tournament.
Everyone loves an underdog story, even when it’s orchestrated by your community’s archrival.
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter @akempiresports.