Coming out of early season tournaments, most of Juneau’s high school basketball teams are getting ready for the Princess Capital City Classic, which starts on Monday.
The tournament, which will be hosted by Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé at their gym, will see both the JDHS boys and girls as well as the Thunder Mountain High School girls teams square off against out-of-town competitors.
“We’re so excited,” said JDHS boys coach Robert Casperson in a phone interview. “It’s so great to have it back.”
The hosts with the most
The four-day tournament is open to the public, with discounted tickets already available online at the JDHS activities page. Tickets will also be available at the door. Masks will be required for all spectators. Other groups, such as the dance team and pep band, will also be making an appearance, Casperson said.
For coaches, there’s more information available about their teams’ strengths and weaknesses after the early tournaments going into the Capital City Classic.
“We definitely have more of an idea of what we’re trying to do. I think that’s helpful,” said JDHS girls coach Steve Potter. “I really don’t know anything about any of the other teams. I don’t know if we’ve ever played Kotzebue before.”
The TMHS girls team will open the tournament against Eagle River at 1 p.m. on Monday, while the JDHS girls will play Kotzebue at 5 p.m. The boys will play their first game against Kotzebue at 7 p.m.
“Playing Kotzebue in the first round of the classic, we know they’re going to try to turn up the pace and get down the floor,” Casperson said. “One of the things we absolutely have to get better at is communication and defensive rotation. We need more understanding of the defensive concepts we’re trying to employ.”
Following games on Monday and Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday will feature shooting contests at 3 p.m. Admission is free. The tournament will wrap up with games on Thursday, with awards going out at 8:30 p.m. The tournament comes as each team is still sharpening its style.
“Our primary challenges right now are us doing what we want to do,” Potter said. “When we start playing Ketchikan or TM multiple times, we can start talking about stopping them from what they want to do.”
Trial by fire
The TMHS girls knew they’d face stiff competition in Wasilla, and the talented teams were as fierce as expected.
“We feel like going through the fire of this competition and adversity, we’re going to be a better team,” said TMHS girls coach Andy Lee.
The Thunder Mountain girls lost against Wasilla, who Lee said is an early favorite for a state championship, and Sierra Canyon School, who ESPN recently tapped as the sixth best high school in the nation.
Wasilla won 58-14,while Sierra Canyon won 79-41.
In between the Thursday and Saturday losses, Thunder Mountain beat Mt. Edgecumbe High School 56-46.
Kiara Kookesh, a junior, scored 15 points and grabbed five rebounds in that game.
“She had an outstanding game against Sierra Canyon as well,” Lee said.
Lee said after seeing the team play its first games of the season, it’s apparent grit and effort are the team’s calling cards. He said the team fought hard until the final buzzer in all contests.
“Our identity is grit and toughness,” Lee said.“This team is all about its intangibles right now.”
He said senior Sydney Strong epitomizes that.
“She never backs down,” Lee said.
Thunder Mountain will get a chance to show off their effortful brand of basketball in front of Juneau crowds in the coming days.
Team on the shelf
Thunder Mountain High School’s boys basketball team is off until next year.
The Falcons went 1-2 in a tournament at Service High School in Anchorage during their first weekend of play.
Thunder Mountain sandwiched a 65-28 win against Cordova High School with a 52-49 loss to Chugiak High School and a 61-52 loss against Nome-Beltz Middle High School.
“My takeaway mainly being it’s early, and we’ve got a lot to work on,” said TMHS boys coach John Blasco in a phone interview. “We’ve got our work cut out for us, but I think we made some good progress for such a young team.”
Blasco said it was great to see out-of-region competition after last year’s shortened, region-only schedule.
Two Thunder Mountain sophomores —Thomas Baxter and Sam Lockhart — were selected to the all-tournament team.
Lockhart scored more than 20 points in all three games, including a 27-point outburst with five 3-pointers on Friday, Dec. 16.
“It’s a pretty strong weekend for anybody,” Blasco said. “He had a great first weekend performance. It really created a lot of buzz in the tournament.”
Blasco said Lockhart kept the scoring up despite drawing tough defenders from opposing teams.
Baxter, who takes the toughest defensive assignments for the Falcons, averaged a comparatively modest 11 points per game in the tournament. Blasco said while that’s not a total to scoff at, Baxter’s rebounding and defense contributed to his all-tournament selection.
“The eight coaches in the tournament recognized his contributions beyond scoring,” Blasco said.
After the three-game spurt, TMHS will have some extended time off. Then, the Falcons will log some serious time traveling.
If Jan. 6 and 19 games at home against Petersburg High School, weren’t on the schedule, Thunder Mountain would not have a home game until mid-February.
“We’re hitting the road pretty darn hard in January,” Blasco said.
1 p.m. TMHS v. Eagle River, girls
3 p.m. Eagle River v. West Anchorage, boys
5 p.m. Kotzebue v. JDHS, girls
7 p.m. Kotzebue v. JDHS, boys
1 p.m. Eagle River v. Kotzebue, girls
3 p.m. West Anchorage v. Kotzebue, boys
5 p.m. JDHS v. TMHS girls
7 p.m. JDHS v. Eagle River, boys
Shooting contest, 3 p.m.
1 p.m., TMHS v. Kotzebue, girls
5 p.m. Eagle River v. JDHS, girls
7 p.m. West Anchorage v. JDHS, boys