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E.J. King boys basketball coach Daren Schuettpelz conducts a drill Tuesday in the school gym at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan.
E.J. King boys basketball coach Daren Schuettpelz conducts a drill Tuesday in the school gym at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan. (Greg Tyler / S&S)

(See capsule summaries of the teams at end of story)

The Robert D. Edgren Eagles from Misawa Air Base have competed the past 20 years in Far East basketball tournaments for large-school teams. They even reached Center Court in 1986 and 1998.

But an enrollment drop — almost 100 over the past three years — brings a change of Far East tournament venue. The Eagles will play in February’s Class A tournament for small schools at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in southwestern Japan.

“We’ve always been the smallest big school in the Orient ... even though we’ve competed and done well over the years,” said Edgren principal Michael Johnson.

Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific interscholastic sports policy sets 340 as the enrollment cutoff for Class A eligibility. Edgren began the academic year with 292 students, Johnson said. Even so, DODDS-Pacific gave the school the option of remaining at the large-schools level.

“We had our athletic community … weigh the pros and cons and we decided to enter the small-schools category,” Johnson said. The decision is open to review at the end of the school year and Edgren could return to Class AA if its enrollment increases.

For Eagles basketball, said Johnson and coach Andre Thibert, the move is win-win. Team members will play in the tournament against teams of similar enrollment and playing ability, after getting a full season of fire-testing against Japan’s Class AA teams.

“We will still see all the Japan schools … but when we go to Far East, we will see schools more equal,” Johnson said. “That will make the competition a lot closer and make for some very good games.”

“We’re still playing Class AA schools,” Thibert said, “which is great because we get some good competition heading into Far East.” He pointed to last season, when the Eagles finished third but succumbed to lack of depth in Class AA tournament.

“You can have five or six players and win a league but that’s one weekend at a time,” Thibert said. “A tournament … is a depth issue … game after game after game. I find my guys running out of gas because of the style we like to play, up-and-down, push the ball up court.”

In a small-schools tournament, Thibert said, the Eagles in theory would be among teams with similar personnel issues, depth and school enrollment. “It makes it more of a level playing field.”

Just being a formerly competitive Class AA program may not guarantee success in Class A. Edgren still must get past resurgent Taegu American, with its solid veteran class; Pusan American with All-Tournament luminaries Moses Joh and James Edwards and international powers such as defending Class A champion Faith Academy of Manila.

Thibert may find himself adjusting his game plan. This season, for the first time in years, his lineup includes a few players as tall as 6 feet 4. “I’ve never had guys who are that big,” he said. “That may change our style of play a little, slow it down a bit for the sake of the team’s success.”

Thibert and the Eagles face a test right out of the gate: Hosting defending Class AA champion Yokota on Friday and Saturday. “If we can do well against Yokota and Nile C. Kinnick, we should do fairly well at Far East,” Thibert said. “This will be interesting. This will be fun.”

Class A boysKorea

Taegu American Warriors,Camp George

2004-05 record: 7-16 overall; 2-12, 6th place in Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference Division I.

Head coach: Chance Wilson, second season.

Key returnees: Daniel Pressley, So., PF; Kenneth Harris, Jr., PG (All-Conference and All-KAIAC tournament); Duri Balat, Sr., PF; Wendell Espy, Sr., PG (All-KAIAC tournament).

Key newcomers: Will Glabreth, Fr., PG: Sean Wise, So., G.

Outlook: Reloading/contending. Wilson hopes the momentum of winning KAIAC boys volleyball league and tournament title will carry over into basketball.

Pusan American Panthers,Camp Hialeah

2004-05 record: 29-6 overall; 14-1, 1st place in Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference Division II.

Coach: Phillip Loyd, fourth season.

Key returnees: James Edwards, Sr., F-G (three-time All-Far East Class A, All-Conference, All-KAIAC tournament and co-MVP); Moses Joh, Sr., PG (2004 All-Far East Class A, two-time All-Conference, 2005 All-KAIAC tournament and co-MVP); Detlef Loyd, Sr., F; Richard Hobby, Sr., C; Chung Lee, Sr., PF.

Outlook: Contending. Lacking depth, lost six seniors from last year and plenty of newcomers. Loyd says if the veterans contribute, Panthers can have another good season.

Osan American Cougars,Osan Air Base

2004-05 record: 15-13 overall; 8-5, 3rd place in Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference Division I.

Key returnee: Cory Black, Jr.

Outlook: Rebuilding. Steep drop from the days of Steven Davis, A.J. Scott and Terry Stephens and the 2003 tournament title, but Collins feels his young group is eager to work hard and become competitive sooner rather than later.

Japan

E.J. King Cobras,Sasebo Naval Base

2004-05 record: 14-12 overall; 5-7, 4th place in Japan Basketball League.

Head coach: Daren Schuettpelz, second season.

Key returnees: Paul Diaz, Sr., post; Rashaad Clark, Jr., post; Fernando Rico, So., G; Dominique Johnson, So., G; Rodney Johnson, So., G; Gabriel Singletary, So., post; Keith Williams, So., post.

Key newcomers: Eric Hayes, Jr., G (transfer from Nile C. Kinnick with freshman brother Anthony); Densen Mannacup, Jr., post; Chris Frost, So., post.

Outlook: Rebuilding/reloading. Lost two-time All-Far East guard Draonne Johnson. Plenty of youth to take his place. Perhaps a year away from challenging in JBL and Class A.

Matthew C. Perry Samurai,Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni

2004-05 record: 11-18 overall; 2-12, 6th place in Japan Basketball League.

Head coach: Michael Duncan, first season.

Key returnees: Daniel Clark, Jr., F; Justin Narciso, Jr., PG; Cameron Redick, So., F-C.

Key newcomers: Ryan Marshall, Sr., PG; Julio Rodriguez, So., G; Michael Duncan, Fr., G; Brent Schuck, Fr., F.

Outlook: Rebuilding. All five starters from last season departed. Holdovers Clark and Redick should be tough inside, Narciso has potential as a playmaker, Marshall and Rodriguez are aggressive defensively and should create good scoring chances for Duncan and Schuck, both of whom are good shooters. Coach Duncan feels his team will be a Class A title contender.

Robert D. Edgren Eagles,Misawa Air Base

2004-05 record: 12-11 overall; 7-6, 2nd place in Japan Basketball League.

Head coach: Andre Thibert, third season.

Key returnees: Shamar Riddick, Sr., G; Mark Young, Jr., G; Derek Lang, So., G Josh Ray, So., F; Peter Kamau, Sr., F, Evan Tablatin, Jr., G.

Key newcomers: Adam Griffith, Jr., F; Phillip Kemp, Jr., F; Caliph Pritchett, So., C.

Outlook: Rebuilding-reloading. Move to Class A from Class AA will benefit a team that plays JBL large-schools opposition much of the season, and tough Japanese teams in Tokoku region. Height, among a handful of newcomers, is a rare commodity this season for Thibert.

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