Musings, mutterings and the occasional schmatzas the regular season heads into the home stretch, with Far East tournaments just around the corner:
-- Sometimes, a basketball team’s most unlikely ally is a team one might consider a rival.
Take Daegu’s girls, for example. The Warriors suffered their first on-court defeat on Friday 47-44 at Seoul Foreign. That knocked them into second place in the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference Blue Division, andleft themin need of some serious help if they were to somehow jump back on top, win the regular season and earn the KAIAC tournament’s top seed and first-round bye.
When lo’ and behold, what happens the next day? Seoul American becomes the Warriors’ white knight, riding in to hand Seoul Foreign its second regular-season loss 47-45. It even put the Falcons in position to forge a three-way tie for the season title and top seed, forcing tournament organizers to look at the tiebreakers, first one being head-to-head results among the three teams, and next the point differentials to decide a winner.
That’s a tall order, given the remaining games on the regular-season schedule, which include Seoul Foreign at Yongsan International-Seoul on Wednesday, Humphreys at Seoul American on Friday and Daegu at Humphreys on Saturday.
For Daegu, it’s simple: Beat the Blackhawks, coached by former Warriors star of the early 2000s Ashley Gooch, and they’re the top seed. The Crusaders need to win at YIS-Seoul on Wednesday and for Humphreys to beat Daegu on Saturday. Seoul American, the defending KAIAC tournament champion, needs for the Crusaders and Warriors to both lose to have even a point-differential chance.
Sidebar to the above: Coach Jesse J. Smith said the irony of what the Falcons did to the Crusaders and how it benefitted Daegu wasn’t lost on him. But it wasn’t something he or his girls were consciously thinking about going into the game. As withall games, the Falcons simply went in to win. The standings mumbo-jumbo was simply a byproduct of the victory.
-- No such drama exists on the boys side. It’s Seoul American all the way, aiming for its first Far East Division I Tournament title since the Falcons last won it on their home court in 2008. They’re 11-0 in league and 12-0 overall, and have been in relative trouble in just one game this season, a 47-40 win at YIS-Seoul. Daegu is three games back at 8-3 and is set to play the bottom seed, Humphreys, in the first round.
Assuming Daegu’s girls hang on and win the regular-season title, that would suit Phillip Loyd fine, since he’s coaching both the Warriors boys and girls. It would mean the chances of the two teams playing at the same time would be far less than if each team finished in the same spot in their respective standings.
-- Kubasaki’s girls could be right at the cusp of breaking through and becoming the contending team that longtime Dragons coach Bob Driggs has envisioned.
Evidence: The Dragons’ 64-42 quarterfinal win over Chatan and their 71-59 semifinal triumph over Kita Nakagusuku, plus leading Kadena by nine points before fading 45-37 in the championship Sunday in the 8th Okinawa-American Friendship Tournament.
Players and coach say they’re gaining more confidence every time they step on the court. Driggs said the team is starting to get things done defensively.
His best brush stroke was the gameplan he brought to the championship. Unlike their game eight days earlier, which Kadena won in blowout fashion 63-40 when the Panthers won an up-and-down full-court running game, Driggs had the Dragons slow the pace. They would pass the ball between five to 10 times before taking a shot, and only briefly in the third quarter, when Kadena outscored Kubasaki 10-0, did the Dragons stray from that script.
Kadena’s Jasmine Rhodes did score 16 points, but rarelydid she get any in fast-break mode. Still, the Panthers outscored the Dragons 22-6 over an eight-minute span after trailing 29-20, pulling away for the eight-point win.
Kubasaki has visited this sort of territory in the past under Driggs. The Dragons are 5-9 now; 27 years ago, they went a modest 2-13 in the regular season entering a Far East tournament in which unbeaten Kadena and Seoul American were the prohibitive favorites. Interesting it was when Kubasaki made it all the way to the championship game (Seoul American lost in the first round of bracket play) and actually led Kadena 43-39 after three periods before succumbing.
-- Again, no such drama on the boys side. Well, maybe some at the beginning of the championship, when Kubasaki trailed Futenma 9-6. A 9-0 run took care of that in relatively short order and the Dragons led by as many as 22 points en route to a 75-60 win.
The last time the Dragons won that tournament was coach Jon Fick’s first season. By coincidence, he also became the first rookie coach in the tournament’s history to win the Far East Division I title, that back in 2007.
-- Dramatic finishes seemed to rule the weekend in girls hoops. Poster child example of that was Friday’s Robert D. Edgren at Yokota game, a matchup of Panther height and Eagle guard play that came out in Yokota’s favor by the slimmest of margins, 38-37. In overtime.
Credit the Panthers’ bigs in no small part for that. Sophomores Caitlyn Rowan and Samantha Arnold and junior Sarah Claypool combined for 38 rebounds for Yokota in that contest, filling the shoes of departed post players Sarah Hamner and Brianna Harris ably.
They’ll likely have their hands full on Wednesday, speaking of bigs, when American School In Japan – last year’s Far East D-I runner-up – arrives at the scene of that close miss, Yokota’s Capps Gym.
Leading the Kanto Plain at 5-0 and boasting an overall 10-2 record (their only losses coming in November at the Hong Kong tournament), the Mustangs have everything, balance, depth and a generous amount of height. No Bessie Noll to run the point, but they’re far from hurting with other options Joey Yamada, Ella Noll and … one name you might not expect: Liz Thornton. A post player the last three years, she plays guard and small forward on this team. Coach Julie Rogers can afford that luxury when names like Alex Hernandez and Mia Weinland come into the conversation.
Zama also faces that assemblage of tall players on Tuesday, when the Trojans girls visit Mustang Valley. They’ve been on a roll lately, at 10-2 overall, but that could change.
Look who’s the only unbeaten team left in Guam boys basketball. Guam High’s 4-0 start, including an epic 65-57 double-overtime win at Father Duenas Memorial, equals the best in the school’s 17-season history. The Panthers last won a Far East tournament title in its very first year, the Tyrun Washington/Troy Hoover team of 1997-98, when the school was permitted to send them to the small-schools tournament at Matthew C. Perry. The possibility of capturing the D-I tournament title next month on Okinawa is likely very much on the Panthers’ minds at this stage.
With most eyes on Zama and Daegu to challenge for the Far East D-II boys title, it might be easy to overlook a Zion Christian Academy International team that’s just 4-10, but most of those losses were close ones, such as Monday’s 63-59 defeat at Kadena. The Lions have already beaten the Panthers once and could be waiting in the wings in case the Trojans or Warriors stumble at Iwakuni. Rejay Maruo is easily the best scorer on the Lions, but athletes such as Zechariah Wilson and Shion Wakita bear watching as well. Katsuya Teruya has done an excellent job building that program.