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Things learned, observed in Pacific high school basketball Week 9.0.1

Members of Okinawa's Haebaru High School Rotties girls basketball team enjoy a slice of Americana on Saturday during the 6th Okinawa-American Shootout at Camp Foster, Okinawa. Aside from fellowship, the tournament afforded the American military and Japanese communities a chance to exchange cultures and forge stronger friendship ties.

Sixth time we’ve seen the Okinawa-American Shootout for DODDS Okinawa and Japanese teams, fifth straight year at the Foster Field House, after it enjoyed its infancy at Kadena’s school complex in January 2007.

For complete scores and photos from Day 1 of the Okinawa-American Shootout, click here.

It continues, organizers say, to remain popular with both sides, “the two communities coming together,” says Keith Richardson, who works for Marine Corps Community Services and serves as an unofficial liaison between DODDS Okinawa, Kubasaki and Kadena High Schools, and the Okinawa Basketball Association. Richardson is also a Ryukyu Golden Kings assistant coach in Japan’s bjLeague.

“We’re guests in their country, but we’re inviting them into our house,” Richardson said.

The tournament, featuring six Japanese teams listed in the top 10 among Okinawa basketball programs, helps them get ready for postseason competition in Japan’s main islands next month, and it also helps Kadena and Kubasaki prepare for Far East Division I tournaments. “Each gets to see a different level of play,” Richardson said.

Japanese teams play relentless man-to-man, full-court pressure, run the court hard and shoot three-pointers plentifully since they don’t have the size to compete with Kadena and Kubasaki inside.

The tournament also continues to help mitigate a dire circumstance faced by Kadena and Kubasaki back in 2003, when a group of parents protested what they termed a “lack of opportunity” for those two schools to get the same sort of in-season competition that schools in Japan and Korea enjoy.

“It’s something that could have been done so many years earlier,” Richardson said, adding that once he’d liaised with athletics director Fred Bales of Kubasaki, “we didn’t realize how much they needed the games. We need them (Japanese) more than they need us.”

Thus, the 64 or so basketball programs on the island “have been gracious enough to help fill those gaps,” Richardson said, adding that with one phone call, a team will “bend over backwards” to give Kubasaki or Kadena a game.

***

Not only are the American teams gaining a wealth of conditioning and knowledge playing against their Japanese counterparts, they’re even starting to sound like them during warmups. Japanese teams engage in various chants and cheers designed to motivate and encourage their teammates, something that Kubasaki, last year’s Far East Boys D-I Tournament champion, picked up on a year ago.

“It’s sort of like you’re taking a test in school and you have classmates around you, going, ‘You can do this!’ or ‘Hey, great answer!’” Kubasaki coach Jon Fick said.

Kentrell Key, Kubasaki’s center last year who’s now playing for NCAA Division II Elizabeth City State (N.C.), was the guy who started that routine last season, Fick said.

“It’s one of the cultural things the guys picked up on. Kind of a unity thing, sort of like in baseball or softball, keeping everybody involved even if you’re on the bench. Positive reinforcement,” Fick said.

***

Sometimes, it takes longer for some teams to see the lights inside their heads switch on.

A season ago for Kubasaki’s girls team, which went 4-25 on the season, it was a double-overtime 48-45 defeat against Hong Kong International that made them realize they could play good basketball.

This year, the breakfast at Epiphany’s occurred a whole month earlier.

The Dragons are just 2-18 this season, but fought like tigers through two overtimes before succumbing to Chatan 89-81. Kubasaki led by five points with a minute left in regulation before Chatan forced bonus basketball.

it was by far the best game the Dragons played all season. By far. And you could see in their faces -- boundless joy in some who knew the moment had arrived, disappointment and even a few tears in others who realized they could have won the game.

It could be the start of something really big. I somehow think the next two times the Dragons face their archrival Kadena, the Panthers shouldn’t sleep on them, for they might just surprise them.

Now, that’s not to say the Dragons are in complete 180-degree turnaround mode and are a threat to reach Center Court at Yokota on Feb. 25.

Although stranger things have happened. A one-win Kubasaki team in 1987 entered Far East at Kadena a heavy underdog, but rolled unbeaten all the way to the final, where the Dragons held a four-point lead after three quarters on Kadena before finally falling.

We’ll see what this does.

***

Old home week it was Saturday at the Foster Field House, when we saw not just one, not two, not three, but four former Osan American High School teachers and coaches in the house supporting their new school, Kubasaki.

-- Tony Alvarado coached the Cougars to their first and only Far East Division II football title in 2005; he now works as Kubasaki’s defensive coordinator under head coach and athletics director Fred Bales.

-- Johnny Windhom coached Osan cross country for nearly a decade; he’s now a Dragons track and field assistant.

-- Kevin Peterson and Mike Hogen each helmed the boys basketball and volleyball teams at Osan; Peterson assists Kubasaki boys basketball coach Jon Fick, while Hogen coaches the Dragons girls varsity volleyball team.

***

If you saw a girl dancing and laughing in the parking lot near the Foster Field House around 2 p.m. Saturday, it was with good reason.

Kadena senior cheerleader Nichole LeGall had just gotten word she’d been accepted at Virginia Commonwealth, the second Virginia school that opened the door to her, first one being George Mason.

It’s that time of year, folks, when the college acceptances come rolling in. Also got word that senior Jace Johnson, a Kubasaki football running back, got the OK from Old Dominion, among others.

Congrats, Jace and Nichole.

***

And as usual, one great reason to come to the Okinawa-American Shootout is to see all the unusual mascots borne by the Japanese teams.

This year, you’ll be treated to the Rotties of Haebaru High on the southern part of the island, the girls team’s first time in the tournament.

As usual, there’s the Oroku Trojan (singular, which behaves as plural sometimes in Japanese), plus the Kitanakagusuku Fighting Lions. Of course, they’re the province of the boys team; the girls Kitanaka team is called the Falcons.

But we’re missing one of my all-time favourites this year – the Itoman Raging Billows, so named because Itoman sits on the island’s south seawalls, where many a violent typhoon has caused huge, high waves to break onto shore.

***

Two things definitely stood out as smash hits during the first day of the Okinawa-American Shootout:

-- The ubiquitous pizza party, courtesy of Okinawa Xchange, one of the tournament’s co-sponsors. The tournament purchased no fewer than 50 boxes of 16-slice pepperoni and sausage pizzas, consumed zestfully by all parties, especially the Japanese, who aren’t used to such treats off post.

-- Two-year-old Matthew Heritage, an absolute basketball addict who’s the younger brother of Kubasaki girls player Jordan Heritage. The blond-blue youngster was especially popular among the Japanese girls players, who kept saying “kawaii” which means cute in Nihongo. He’d go from team to team, carrying a small blue children’s basketball, and would take turns shooting through the arms of players who would curve them into the shape of a basket. I’ll be keeping an eye out for that name about 12 years from now, when he’ll become a basketball phenom somewhere in the States.

***

They’ve struggled to score points the past couple of weeks without senior stalwart Bryant McCray at small forward. He’s been sidelined since Jan. 4 with a sprained ankle, and isn’t expected back until the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference Division I postseason tournament Feb. 10-11 at Seoul Foreign.

Congratulations nonetheless to the Seoul American Falcons boys basketball team, which despite its scoring woes won its ninth outright regular-season title (shared it with Seoul Foreign in 2007, didn’t win in 2010) in the 11 seasons that Steve Boyd has been at the coaching helm.

With him, the Falcons averaged nearly 77 points per game; without, they’ve scored 51.3 points in three high school games. Adds pressure, Boyd says, to the likes of senior post Tomiwa Akinbayo, who’s seen more double teams, and to the guards, whose burden increases without McCray available.

Assuming McCray is able to return by the KAIAC tournament, that would be almost like a free-agent pickup just short of the postseason, sharing the burdens with his teammates and making them and the team that much better and stronger. They’ll go from very, very good to outstanding again. Give them time. J

38 days.

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Ornauer on AFN

 

Stars and Stripes reporter Dave Ornauer talks about the Pacific sports scene on AFN Radio. (Click on right arrow to play file.)

 

March 31: Dave Ornauer highlights Far East soccer between Nile C. Kinnick and Matthew C. Perry and talks a little about track, baseball and softball.

March 21: Dave Ornauer talks about last weekends track meet, where a Yokota runner almost beat a Pacific record and highlights a couple Far East baseball and soccer games.

March 14: Spring has sprung and Dave Ornauer is in full bloom over DODDS Pacific baseball, softball, soccer and track teams.