Far East basketball tournaments Defending champs show they’re ready to repeat
If Monday’s opening day was any indication, the road to Far East basketball titles still leads through the teams that hoisted the hardware a year ago.
Throughout Japan, defending champions dominated the first day of play: 2008 Class AA boys champion Seoul American and girls champion Kadena breezed through their pool-play games, along with Class A girls titlist Faith Academy, trying its hand at the AA level this year. Only Yongsan International, last year’s Boys Class A champion, stumbled Monday.
Reigning Class AA boys MVP Willie Brown paced Seoul American’s boys to two victories on Monday, 80-27 over John F. Kennedy of Guam and 57-37 over Zama American.
"Good start to the tournament," Falcons coach Steve Boyd said after the first win. "We were hitting on all cylinders. Everybody was hitting."
It was the Falcons’ first time back on the Pacific stage since their pedestrian finish in December’s New Year Classic at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Seoul American was missing Brown and RaiDion Fails, both on emergency leave in the States.
"Any time you have two All-Far East players gone, it’s going to be a different team," said Jon Fick, whose Kubasaki Dragons played in the Classic and also in November’s Hong Kong International School Holiday Tournament. "This is the Seoul team that was at Hong Kong."
Led by guard Britney Wise’s and forward Aja’ Walker’s shooting, Kadena’s girls, champions the last two years, won their first two games by an average of 33.5 points against two Guam teams.
But Panthers coach Dewayne Pigge’ sounded a cautionary note — Faith and 2008 runner-up Seoul American loom as major obstacles; the Panthers played and lost to each at the Hong Kong tournament.
Of Faith, Pigge’ said the Vanguards’ "outside shooting has improved and there’s a lot of unity in that team. They work well together. They create open shots and make them."
Despite the Falcons’ missing inside star Devanee’ Taylor with a knee injury, Seoul is still a threat, Pigge’ said.
"Their defense is coming along really good. [Sophomore Liz] Gleaves is a most important part of the team and [sophomore forward] Destinee’ Harrison has stepped in place of Taylor," Pigge’ said. "They’re the keys to that team."
Edgren girls, Osan boys notch two victories apiece in Class AWith Ashley Hawkins leading the way, averaging 14 points, Robert D. Edgren ended Monday as the only unbeaten DODDS-Pacific team in the girls Class A tournament at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.
Meanwhile, Osan American’s boys got off to their best start at a Class A tournament since 2004, winning their first two games behind hot-shooting Dan Arnold at Misawa Air Base.
Edgren played at the Class AA level last year, but due to an enrollment drop are now in Class A, which coach Sarah Richardson says benefits her group.
"When you’re at a level higher than what you are, you don’t learn anything," she said. "Here, they can see the mistakes they make, correct them and become competitive. They say, ‘Hey coach, we got this.’ That’s a mouthful. I have happier kids. I have confident kids."
While favorites ruled Monday’s play, there was some amount of drama, particularly at Iwakuni, where Osan survived Morrison’s fourth-quarter rally to eke out a 42-41 overtime win.
"The girls kind of fell asleep, they didn’t put the ball in the basket and the defense wasn’t there," coach Bruce Barker said. "Hopefully, the girls will wake up and realize they have to play all four quarters."