KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa – Sure, they want to win; why wouldn’t they?
But more than additional numbers in their win-loss ledgers, it’s the experience they hope to gain against adult players that lures the high school basketball teams from Kadena, Kubasaki and Seoul American to play in this weekend’s Martin Luther King tournaments for adults teams.
At Okinawa’s Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and Korea’s Camp Humphreys, the Panthers boys and girls, Dragons and Falcons girls teams will take their share of hard knocks, against bigger, faster, quicker, more physical adult players – a look they don’t get against high school teams, coaches say.
“We’re not looking to get wins necessarily, but to develop players against stronger competition,” Kadena boys coach Gerald Johnson said. “See your first- and second-line players and how they stand up to that adult talent.”
Playing against post-level teams should “expose our weaknesses on offense and defense and help develop our practice plans for the second half of the season, things we need to work on,” Falcons girls coach Jesse Smith said.
The Okinawa schools go up against 13 men’s and four women’s teams in straight double-elimination play, starting at 6:30 p.m. Friday and continuing through Sunday afternoon’s championship games at Futenma’s Semper Fit Gymnasium.
Seoul American will battle three women’s teams in pool play Saturday and early Sunday, followed by double-elimination if the Falcons qualify. The tournament ends Monday with the men’s final at 3 p.m. and the women’s at 2 p.m. at Humphreys’ Super Gym and MP Hill Gym.
High school teams welcome the challenge, Panthers girls coach Willie Ware said, of facing “experienced competition.”
“Any time you play women who’ve played post- or college-level ball, it gives us a chance to learn, to see a different look. We’ll use it as a learning experience. It’s something we always look forward to.”
Battling against older players also helps with a high school team’s mental makeup, Smith said. “The mental game is as big a part of the game as the physical part; to get my team to step on the court with them will help them develop mental strength,” he said.
The Panthers finished second in a three-team MLK tournament last year. “This year, with six teams, it’s more of a challenge.”