Alwen Carrillo, one of the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé boy’s basketball team captains, dribbles during practice on Dec. 15, 2021. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire File)

Alwen Carrillo, one of the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé boy’s basketball team captains, dribbles during practice on Dec. 15, 2021. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire File)

Juneau boys basketball hitting the road

One team is bound for Anchorage, the other for Utqiagvik

After a several-week pause in games, the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé boys basketball team will return to the competition as they head to the Alaska Airlines Classic this weekend.

Meanwhile, the Thunder Mountain High School boys team will head further afield, heading to Barrow High School for a tournament in Utqiagvik.

Both teams have sub-.500 records so far, but with a heavy schedule of games coming up, they may be poised to change that. And their first opportunity to face off against their cross-town rivals is fast approaching, scheduled for Feb. 4-5.

After the calm, the storm

The JDHS boys have had a lull in their schedule, with their last game played on Dec. 30. Coach Rob Casperson said they’ve used that long period to practice and get healthy, readying to add to a 3-4 season record so far.

“We spent a portion of the break from games getting healthy from sickness, so that was actually helpful,” Casperson said in an email. “Other than that, we’ve been spending a lot of our time focused on quality reps on offensive execution, rebounding, and defensive rotations. There has been a lot of improvement in the last two weeks.”

The relationships of the team are also gelling, Casperson said, bringing the players together.

“Players are stepping up and realizing that leadership is a character trait that can be found within everyone, on some level,” Casperson said. “Our three captains – Tias Carney, Alwen Carrillo, and Kai Hargrave – are shouldering more of that responsibility, but everyone is holding each other accountable to our expectations, which has been nice to see.”

As JDHS heads to the Alaska Airlines Classic hosted at West Anchorage High School this weekend, Casperson said he’s happy where the team is at.

“I am. After the past few weeks of practice against each other, it will be nice to get out on the court against someone else though,” Casperson said. “That will really help us figure out what we’ve improved upon and what still needs work.”

JDHS doesn’t make it to the Alaska Airlines Classic often, Casperson said.

“Prior to 2020, when we were 1-2, it had been a while since we last participated in this tournament,” Casperson said. “We’ve been a few times over the years and we’re usually competitive. We were 2-1 my first time there as a head coach in 2011-12, including a win against Mt. Zion from North Carolina.”

The classic will be the third tournament the Crimson Bears attend this year, following the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas they began their season with and the Princess Cruises Capital City Classic they hosted right here in Juneau. Casperson said they’ll take it one game at a time.

“The Alaska Airlines Classic is a great tourney with a lot of talent and it is run very well, so we are thankful for the opportunity,” Casperson said. “In regards to ‘the team to beat,’ we always focus on our next opponent… and right now that would be East Anchorage.”

Double trouble

The Thunder Mountain Falcons returned from Palmer with two wins and two all-tournament players.

The Thunder Mountain High School boys basketball team played a trio of tournament games late last week in Palmer. Thunder Mountain went 2-1 in the games with wins against Nome -Beltz Middle High School — 81-76 — and the tournament’s host — 57-54. The lone loss was a low-scoring, 41-31 defeat at the hands of West Valley High School.

Isaiah Nelson drives against Thomas Baxter during practice at Thunder Mountain High School. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

Isaiah Nelson drives against Thomas Baxter during practice at Thunder Mountain High School. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

Travel and COVID-19-related breaks in practice complicated preparation for the tournament.

“It was definitely a weird one to prepare for,” said assistant coach Matt Seymour, who led TMHS on the road trip, in a phone interview. “I think the guys did a lot better than expected despite the lack of practice.”

Sophomores Thomas Baxter and Samuel Lockhart were named to the all-tournament team, Seymour said.

The two each scored more than 20 points in a wild Saturday win against Nome. It was the second time the Falcons have played Nome, the first game ended in a loss.

It was a dramatic departure from a Friday’s loss to West Valley.

“That was crazy,” Seymour said. “We were definitely hoping for a slower-paced game. I was telling them to push the pace a little bit more, but we may have pushed it too much.”

Despite some turnovers, the Falcons came out on the right side of the high-scoring game.

Thunder Mountain now sits at 3-5 on the season with more travel games on the horizon.

The Falcons are scheduled to play in a tournament in Utqiagvik starting on Friday. Next month, Thunder Mountain will play some of its first games in front of Juneau fans.

The TMHS boys are set to play against Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé at JDHS on Feb. 4 and 5. Home games against Wasilla High School are scheduled for Feb. 11 and 12.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com. Ben Hohenstatt contributed reporting to this article.

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