No. 1 seed JDHS boys prepare for state tournament

The last time the Juneau-Douglas High School boys won a state basketball title was when Carlos Boozer ran roughshod over anyone with the unenviable assignment of guarding him. No. 1 seed JDHS plans to change that starting Thursday at the 2015-2016 March Madness Alaska Basketball State Championships.

The Crimson Bears face Bartlett High School in a first-round matchup at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in Anchorage. Though Bartlett is the tournament’s bottom seed, Juneau-Douglas is preparing for a battle: No team in this year’s bracket is a pushover, and Bartlett has a first team all-state player in 6’2” guard Bentiu Ponoam.

Senior guard Kaleb Tompkins has his focus on the task at hand.

“We have to contain him (Ponoam) but not overlook the rest of their team; play team defense and box out,” Tompkins said, adding, “Being the number one seed doesn’t really matter; We have to beat all the best teams to win. … I feel like we can still get better, we still have things to improve on.”

Senior guard Treyson Ramos: “I’m pretty pumped up. … Being number one won’t matter until the end.”

At practice all week, JDHS head coach Robert Casperson has been emphasizing taking the tournament “one game at a time,” ensuring that nobody on his squad makes the mistake of overlooking Bartlett.

“We’ve faced good athletes all season long, we certainly want to work on containing the ball handler, but it’s not an individual effort. We’re going to have to be aware of him (Ponoam) wherever he is on the floor, be ready to rotate and help out — and help the help — or he’s gonna beat us off the dribble,” Casperson said.

A self-described family, this year’s unit of Crimson Bears players are experienced, big and industrious. All of these attributes were on display at their last full week of practice. JDHS practiced hard, keeping one another accountable without being prodded by their coaches. Underlying all the hard work was a sense of fun.

Casperson says his team’s closeness off the court has led to their selflessness on court.

“They don’t really care who scores, it’s a very unselfish group. Typically our leading scorer has been Kaleb (Tompkins), but our second and third guys rotate through. Bryce (Swofford) has had 20-point games, Erik Kelly has been up there at 20, Treyson (Ramos) has been up to 18 a couple different times, Guy Bean has had multiple 20-point games. … They look for each other and whoever has it going, they’ll keep feeding him.”

If JDHS does make it past Bartlett, they’ll face the winner of a Wasilla-Ketchikan matchup in the semifinals. The Crimson Bears have played both teams this year, beating Wasilla 69-57 in December and winning three of five matchups against Ketchikan in the regular season and Region V tournament. The semifinals tip off at 3:30 p.m. Friday; the championship game is at 8 p.m. Saturday.

All March Madness Alaska Basketball State Championship games can be streamed online at nfhs.com.

For the record, JDHS’ last title was in the 1997-1998 season. Juneau has 11 titles in the 88-year history of Alaska high school basketball.