Don’t use the word “rebuilding” when referring to coach Steve Boyd’s Seoul American Falcons boys basketball team. He doesn’t want to hear it.

He’s lost 70 percent of a squad that won the second Far East High School Boys Class AA Basketball Tournament title in school history. But Boyd feels his current group could exceed the 2002-03 team’s achievements.

“Rebuilding?” he said. “No way. I’m reloading.”

Bold words, given that last year’s team went 37-6 and beat Kubasaki of Okinawa 84-74 in the Class AA final.

Among those graduating was Class AA MVP Nino Etienne, now at the U.S. Military Academy prep school at Fort Monmouth, N.J. Etienne averaged a hefty 27.2 points, 15.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game.

But even without him, Boyd is confident the Falcons have enough new talent to compensate, including a handful of junior varsity promotees and three transfers.

“This bunch of Falcons could potentially outplay last year’s champions,” Boyd said.

Three returning starters will make his retooling job easier, including All-Far East guard Daniel Chicko, a senior. Also back is junior power forward Luis Feliciano, while Jay Higgins, a sophomore, takes over the point now that Chris Glasser has graduated.

Boyd’s bench also has plenty of height. At 6-foot-5, Higgins is the region’s tallest point guard. Nine of the Falcons’ 11 players are 6 feet or taller.

Reinforcements arrived in the form of two stateside transfers, senior small forwards Jake Abromowitz of Weston, Fla., and Steve Scott of Colorado Springs, Colo. Jeremy Christopher arrived from the American School In Japan, where he played JV ball as a freshman.

Boyd’s roster includes six seniors but also boasts plenty of young talent, starting with Glasser’s brother, Brian, a sophomore. He moves up from JV to spell Chicko.

Jamal Mohn is the shortest Falcon at 5-6 but already has been compared to former Falcons guard Randy Melton, the 1996 Class AA MVP. Boyd envisions 6-5 freshman Anthony Gatlin in the same rebounding role Feliciano plays.

“Size, speed, quickness, smarts, great attitude and solid role players will make this team successful,” Boyd said.

The Falcons face their first tests this week, Thursday at Seoul International, then Saturday at home to Seoul Foreign.

Boyd, who finally climbed the Class AA title mountain in his 10th season in the Pacific, said the Falcons’ program approaches the new campaign “at peace with itself, what it represents, what it is a part of and what it has become.”

“Our program no longer is surprised when we win games. We expect to win every game,” Boyd said. “Come late February, we fully expect to successfully defend our Far East championship.”

Among those likely to push Boyd and the Falcons for Class AA supremacy:

¶ Kadena and Kubasaki, with a combined 17 Class AA titles, are in rebuilding mode. The Panthers welcome Brian Hill as their fourth coach in five seasons and boast A.J. Morgan at point. Dragons coach Chris Sullivan must replace departed big men Adam Hodges and Bill Gray.

¶ Nile C. Kinnick in Japan gets a full season with brothers Brenden and Leonard Lynce on the roster, and breaks in a new coach, Nathan Brewster. Former Red Devils coach Paul Ettl, with five Kanto Plain titles to his credit, takes the Yokota Panthers’ helm.

¶ Zama American, sixth in Class AA last year, will rely on athletic junior Corey Stacy for scoring now that a large group of last year’s seniors are gone.

¶ Robert D. Edgren must get along without its anchor player, Matt Beard, but senior Carlos Whatley should inflict plenty of scoring damage.

¶ On the international school front, St. Mary’s International of Tokyo, champion in 2001 and 2002, finally loses its triad of Lars Kelley, Doug Williams and Ferid Ahmed. Tine Hardeman, with eight titles in Pacificwide tournaments, came out of a three-year retirement to take over Faith Academy of Manila from Toby Landers, away on sabbatical.

Seoul American Falcons

Yongsan Garrison, South Korea

Coach: Steve Boyd, third season.

2002-03 season record: Overall, 37-6; Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference, 15-0; defending Far East Class AA (large schools) Tournament champion.

Key returners: Daniel Chicko, senior, shooting guard (All-Far East last season); Luis Feliciano, junior, forward; Jay Higgins, sophomore, point guard.

Key newcomers: Jake Abramowitz, senior, small forward; Steve Scott, senior, small forward; Phillip Douglas, senior, shooting guard; Hayden Campbell, senior, forward; Cory Fisher, senior, guard; Jamal Mohn, sophomore, point guard; Brian Glasser, sophomore, shooting guard.

Outlook: Falcons won’t step back much after losing all-everything senior Nino Etienne; in fact, could exceed last year’s performance. Good mix of veterans and youth, athleticism, leadership, very coachable players. Team to beat in the Far East Class AA tourney, which Falcons will host again.

Robert D. Edgren Eagles

Misawa Air Base, Japan

Coach: Andre Thibert, first season.

2002-03 season record: Overall, 19-14; Japan Basketball League, 10-7, second place.

Key returners: Carlos Whatley, senior, guard; Warren Wilson, junior, forward; Paul Ergus, sophomore, center-forward; Gardner Nakatani, sophomore, forward.

Key newcomer: Kyle Deutsch, senior, center-forward.

Outlook: Relatively young team, will rely on Whatley’s shooting and Deutsch’s rebounding, continuing to build gradually toward Far East tournament title contention. Losing senior middleman Matt Beard will hurt.

Yokota Panthers

Yokota Air Base, Japan

Coach: Paul Ettl, first season.

2002-03 season record: Overall, 27-14; Japan Basketball League, 15-4, first place; Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools, 7-2, second place.

Key returners: Corie White, senior, forward (All-Far East last season); Shawn Novak, junior, guard; Karl Gerstner, senior, forward.

Key newcomers: Clarence Willis, senior, forward; Chris Roach, junior, guard; Cameron Cooper, sophomore, guard.

Outlook: Plenty of experience. Need to play consistent defense throughout games and the course of the season. Holes to fill with athletic brothers Jay and Matt Irwin and Zemetress Randle gone. Good mentor in Ettl, who formerly coached Nile C. Kinnick to five Kanto Plain titles (1995-2000) and two fourth-place Far East Class AA finishes, school’s highest ever.

Zama American Trojans

Camp Zama, Japan

Coach: Tom Allensworth, sixth season.

2002-03 season record: Overall, 23-11; Japan Basketball League, 3-5, sixth place; Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools, 6-3, third place; sixth in Far East Class AA tournament.

Key returners: Corey Stacy, junior, guard-forward (All-Far East last season); Donovan Nance, junior, guard; William Badillo, junior, guard-forward.

Outlook: Vast core of seniors is gone, so Allensworth has an eye toward a season or two from now, when a handful of freshman playing jayvee ball will be primed for a run at a higher level.

Nile C. Kinnick Red Devils

Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan

Coach: Nathan Brewster, first season.

2002-03 season record: Overall, 13-24; Japan Basketball League, 7-10, third place; Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools, 1-8, sixth place.

Key returners: Brenden Lynce, senior, center; Leonard Lynce, junior, small forward-power forward; Travis Ekmark, sophomore, shooting guard-small forward; Kevin Logan, senior, point guard-shooting guard.

Outlook: Solid core of returning starters, with the Lynce brothers providing athleticism, Ekmark plenty of scoring and Logan veteran leadership. Depth is a question mark. Brewster takes helm after coaching girls’ JV for several seasons.

Kadena Panthers

Kadena Air Base, Okinawa

Coach: Brian Hill, first season.

2002-03 season record: Overall, 13-21; Okinawa Activities Council and Okinawa-American League, 3-9.

Key returners: Dejuan Kindell, senior, shooting guard; A.J. Morgan, senior, point guard; Tyler Schmidt, senior, guard.

Key newcomers: Marvin Myrick, sophomore, center; Z’aire Jackson, sophomore, power forward; Elton Sessoms, senior, small forward.

Outlook: Athletic team, with some veteran leadership and promising players who can score and leap, but very young squad. Hill becomes team’s third coach in four seasons.

Kubasaki Dragons

Camp Foster, Okinawa

Coach: Chris Sullivan, second season.

2002-03 season record: Overall, 18-13; Okinawa Activities Council and Okinawa-American League, 5-3; second at Far East Class AA tournament.

Key returners: Re’shon Mew, senior, point guard; Orlando Bell, senior, small forward; P.J. Flores, senior, shooting guard.

Key newcomers: Mike Goodman, sophomore, center; Justin Daugherty, sophomore, guard-forward; James Tolentino, sophomore, point guard.

Outlook: After two straight Class AA runner-up finishes, Dragons enter rebuilding phase with a squad that’s young and eager. Sullivan will use games with Okinawa’s local Japanese teams to see if Kubasaki can match up with other Class AA teams.

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.

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