Things learned, observed in Pacific high school sports winter Week 8.0 (and MLK)
Note: Some of this material published in Monday’s editions of Stars and Stripes.
You think the high school teams had it rough enough during the weekend
Martin Luther King Invitational Basketball Tournaments on Okinawa and at South Korea’s Camp Humphreys?
Try the route Area I’s men had to take to win the men’s title in the Korea MLK, in its fourth year. They had to win games on Monday, the first one starting at 8 a.m., and in the last three, the total victory margin was four points. The last two games? Overtime, 71-69 and 64-63 over a never-say-die Daegu/Area IV squad.
Nishihara, the top-rated Japanese high school team on Okinawa, can speak objectively on that subject. They endured similar exhaustion in becoming the first high school to win the Okinawa MLK title, having to win three games on Sunday and beating Kadena in a two-game final. In this case, the scores weren’t as close, 46-39 and 58-48. The teams became the first high schools to finish 1-2 in the tournament.
Kadena’s Shake & Bake met little resistance in snagging the Okinawa MLK men’s title from Oki Savage 70-44. Yongsan Garrison’s women enjoyed a breakout weekend, taking the Korea MLK title 66-59 over Area I.
High school coaches pretty much agreed that all their teams took away from the tournament a little something to make them better in advance of next month’s Far East tournaments.
“This was a good test for us; we finally got a chance to play top-level competition this weekend (and they realize they’re not) head-and-shoulders above everybody else,” said coach Willie Ware of Kadena’s girls, who came into the weekend tournament unbeaten against high school teams.
Nishihara’s offense was nearly perfect, featuring precision passing and dead-eye three-point shooting – they hit seven in the early stages of the second game to pull away. Defensively, the Japanese crashed down hard on Panthers center Eisiah Lawson, at times triple-teaming her and daring Kadena to beat them from outside.
“Defense,” Ware said of the key component the Panthers must work on before the Far East Division I Tournament Feb. 18-21 at Yokota. Nishihara “moves the ball very well. We have to react quicker. And we have to play a full game, not just in spurts.”
It was the second straight runner-up finish for Kadena in the MLK.
The three-day tournament featured 13 men’s and four women’s teams, all bigger, more physical, quicker and faster than their high-school counterparts. Kadena’s boys won once and lost twice in the double-elimination event, while Kubasaki’s girls fell by the boards in two games. Still, each was able to take a little something from the tournament to make them better.
“We played three really good games and got a chance to evaluate some players in adverse circumstances, which is always a benefit,” Panthers boys coach Gerald Johnson said. “We learned a few things about our players.”
At Camp Humphreys’ MP Hill Gym, Seoul American won once and lost twice, their victory coming against Kunsan Air Base, 43-24. While a confidence booster for the Falcons, coach Jesse J. Smith said he cautioned his players afterward about “our reason for being here.”
In any game against women, “we’re the underdogs, they’re the favorites. We’re the high school team, they’re the women’s teams,” Smith said. “We made some mistakes, they play rougher than high school teams. They’re here to learn how to fight through those things.”
Among the specifics the teams feel they need to work on are basic things, such as sharper, crisper passing and foul shooting.
“By all means, they learned a lot,” Smith said. “They understand the importance of passing and free throws. The two games we lost were because of bad passing. They learned about working together, the speed of the game; they responded. I thank the organizers for inviting us.”
Nishihara almost didn’t make it to the Okinawa MLK final, barely escaping the two-time champion Lady Ballaz 36-32 in the knockout stage. Had the Ballaz won, guard Kristy Robinson would have had to take the court against the Panthers, for whom she serves as a volunteer assistant.
“I was ready for it,” said Robinson, an Air Force staff sergeant from Crestview, Fla., who’s assigned to Kadena Air Base.
Which would she rather do, play for the Ballaz or coach the Panthers?
“I play basketball for fun. I’d rather be coaching them,” she said, adding that she plans to become a coach when she leaves the military.
Since the fall of 2009, the Panthers’ backcourt has featured players named Vaughan. Maria, the team’s point guard, is a senior and Alicia, the shooting guard, is a sophomore, and waiting in the wings is yet another Vaughan sister, Linda, currently an eighth-grader at Okinawa East Junior High School.
She’ll attend Kadena next year and likely will slide into Maria’s spot. The family has been on Okinawa all the girls’ lives; she’ll graduate in 2017. Observers suggest that Linda could become the best basketballer of the three Vaughans.
Also a track runner, she has been timed in 2 minutes, 35 seconds in the 800; the Pacific’s long-standing high school record is 2:19. But sorry, Panther track fans; she plans to play softball in high school.
Top performers of the week
-- Parish Jones of Zama American has averaged 14 points and 10 rebounds in his last three games.
-- Zama freshman Lamari Harris have the Trojans girls in swimmingly good position also, a 7-4 start.
-- Far East tennis champion Chloe Gadsden of Guam High Tennis began her junior regular season by blanking Annette Kang of St. John’s 8-0. She’s the two-time reigning Far East singles champion.
-- Anfernee Dent averaged 25.5 points in two games over the weekend as Daegu High’s boys improved to 9-0 in league play.
-- Taylor Myatt, a sophomore, is similarly a revelation for Daegu’s girls, who beat Yongsan International-Seoul 51-50 on a shot by Myatt with 30 seconds left. The Warriors are 7-2.
-- Kareem Key of Kubasaki averaged 24 points and 16.5 rebounds as the Dragons split their two weekend games and are now 10-7 on the season.
-- De’Asia Brown is averaging 25.5 points this season for Nile C. Kinnick’s girls, who won 61-36 at Christian Academy Japan on Saturday to improve to 10-1.
-- Manasseh Nartey probably is champing at the bit waiting for soccer season to start, but prior to that, he could put Osan American’s boys basketball team on a roll. He’s led the team in scoring the last two times out, each Cougars victories after opening 0-4.
-- Jones and Zama have won six straight games to improve to 9-3 on the season.
-- Yokota’s girls (7-8) have had horrid luck recently with close games, the latest ones a 32-30 overtime loss at Robert D. Edgren last Saturday and a 38-37 defeat Saturday at Zama, following a one-point home loss to Seisen International late last month. “Hopefully, someday we’ll finish one of those,” coach Catherine Martinez said.
The $64,000 question
-- Who will Seoul American’s Joe Durham, arguably the top wrestler in DODDS Korea, be able to wrestle to prepare for next month’s Far East tournament at Nile C. Kinnick? The 215-pounder won both of his bouts in Saturday’s tri-dual at Daegu by walkover; Osan American and Daegu High have nobody at 215 nor heavyweight.