KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa – Just when all appeared lost for Kadena’s boys, a player who’d been out of the lineup all season returned Sunday in style and helped the Panthers repeat their Okinawa-American Friendship Tournament title.
Junior center Preston Harris hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to send the game to overtime, then hit the go-ahead basket with 1:25 left in the extra session, rallying Kadena from an 11-point third-quarter deficit for a thrilling 65-64 win over Oroku, the island’s top-rated Japanese team.
Kadena’s girls also repeated their championship, but hardly in the same dramatic fashion, routing Kubasaki 62-23.
“I didn’t even know the clock was running out,” Harris said of his end-of-regulation heroics. “I’ve been practicing three-pointers. I have confidence in my shot.”
Harris had been suspended from Kadena athletics due to an undisclosed conduct-code violation, which allegedly occurred May 14 at the Kanto Invitational Track and Field Meet at Yokota.
Harris was reinstated Jan. 15 after an appeal hearing before school administration, and put back in the lineup after getting in 10 practices as mandated by high school rules.
“We’re happy to have him back. We’re fortunate to have him back,” Panthers coach Gerald Johnson said. “Credit him for making big plays.”
Harris scored the first two baskets of the game, then stole the ball and dunked it as Kadena took an 11-3 lead 5:10 into the game.
But Oroku turned the tide with a 12-2 run to close the first quarter, then outscored the Panthers 14-2 to seize a 36-25 lead 1:10 into the second half. The Trojans led 47-36 late in the third quarter before Kadena rallied and tied it on Harris’ three-pointer. Harris broke a 61-61 tie with 1:25 left in overtime, then Josh Ward’s two foul shots iced it with 11 seconds left.
While Johnson was glad for Harris’ help, he cautioned that “he has a lot of work to do. These are just his first games back. Getting him into what we’re doing is going to take some time.”
Despite the one-sided margin, the girls’ game was physical and testy at times, as Kadena threw full-court zone and man-to-man pressure on the Dragons, who’d entered the game on a three-game winning streak following an 0-10 start.
The Panthers scored 10 straight points to lead 14-2 after four minutes and led by as many as 41 three times in the second half. Kadena opened the second half with a 15-0 run, fueled again by full-court pressure, for a 51-10 lead.
“Defense wins championships,” Kadena coach Willie Ware said. “We have to get ready for Far East and we have to get our defense where it needs to be. And it’s not there yet. So we intended to work on the press.”
Did he leave the press on for too long?
“Maybe, but it’s good for us,” Kubasaki coach Casey Debord said. “We were able to continue to keep working on” breaking the press. “It lets us know what we need to continue to work on.”
Jasmine Rhodes led Kadena with 17 points, Eisiah Lawson added 12 and Carais Lawrence 10. Allie Reichenberg topped Kubasaki with eight. Kadena, which has already clinched the Okinawa Activities Council season series with Kubasaki, is 4-0 overall against the Dragons this season.