Far East Class AA basketball preview: Seoul American seeking further riches
The numbers don’t lie. Since 1998, Seoul American’s boys and girls teams have molded the school’s basketball program into the Pacific’s pre-eminent Class AA power.
Between them, they have put four Class AA tournament banners up in the rafters at Falcon Gym and have nine other Final Four finishes to their credit. The lowest any Falcons team has fallen in the past five years was the boys’ fifth-place finish in 2004-05.
All that after each team claimed just one Far East tournament title entering the decade, the girls in 1984 and the boys in 1996.
“It’s been a very long time in coming,” said Charlotte Hicks, who began coaching the Falcons girls in 1987 but had to wait 19 seasons to win her first Class AA title after seven straight Final Four finishes.
For years, Seoul American bore the reputation as a dominator within the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference, comprised primarily of schools much smaller than Seoul American’s 600-plus enrollment. But the Falcons “could not win the big one” at Far East.
“It’s nice to finally say the program that you’ve worked on for over 20 years is coming through and people are recognizing it,” Hicks said. “We’ve done the same things all along but until you win a Far East, nobody recognizes it.”
Others clearly have taken notice, of both the Falcons’ Class AA success and their regular-season feats. Hicks’ Falcons have won every KAIAC regular-season title since 1993, while coach Steve Boyd bagged boys Class AA titles in 2003 and 2004 and has gone 73-0 in KAIAC regular-season play since assuming the helm in 2001-02.
“We’ve seen a quantum leap in their program,” said Bob Driggs, girls coach at Kubasaki, the most decorated program in Class AA tournament history with nine titles. “They’re solid, top to bottom, and the rest of us are going to have to pick it up a bit if we’re going to compete with them.”
What has made the Falcons so all-powerful?
Coaching continuity plays a big role, Hicks said, keeping people who know what’s expected and who the powers are during regular-season and Class AA tournament play.
Winning traditions tend to build on themselves and in the past few years, Seoul American has savored Far East tournament success in cross country (2005), football last month and tennis the past two years. “That positive aspect has carried through” to the hardwood, Hicks said.
“And it helps to have a little talent,”she said, pointing to her own Janel Daniels and Margaret Nurse, MVPs of the last two Class AA girls tournaments, and Nino Etienne and Jake Abramowitz, who won MVPs for Boyd’s Falcons boys in 2003 and 2004.
While the boys sport a lineup of short, speedy players no taller than 6-foot-1 and without a true superstar in the Etienne-Abramowitz mold, they will resume their role of Class AA tournament hosts after two years of traveling to Okinawa, which the girls will do this year.
The numbers don’t lie there, either: Host teams have reached Center Court nine straight years in the Class AA girls tournament and won the past five.
On the boys’ side, Yokota of Japan beat Seoul American 72-51 at Okinawa’s Kadena High School in February, breaking a string of four straight years the home team had won the Class AA title; since 1982, 17 host teams have reached the final, winning 11 of them.
“It’s so much easier” being the coach of the host team, Hicks said, whereas coaches taking teams on the road must play the role of coach, parent, teacher, chaperone, even trainer to care for injuries. “You don’t have to constantly be ‘on call.’”
Thus, Hicks said, she’s doing all she can to prepare her charges to face the unfamiliar. “We’re taking a much tougher approach to it this year,” she said.
The Falcons also will be staring down a Kadena team that is hungry for revenge after falling 60-49 in last year’s championship at Seoul American.
“We’re playing on their home court and we know they’re going to want to show us what happens when they get the home cooking,” Hicks said. “But we’re not going to accept anything less than what we’re capable of doing.”
Far East Class AA basketball capsulesSouth Korea
Seoul American FalconsYongsan Garrison, South Korea2005-06 record: 31-10, 17-0 Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference (champion), 2nd at Class AA tournament.Coach: Steve Boyd, fifth season.Key returners: Tyras Milner, Sr., PG; David Smalls, Sr., F-G; Chris Churchwell, Jr., G; Daniel Burns, Jr., G; Andrew Luna, Jr., G-F.Key newcomers: Willie Brown, So., F-G-C; Raidion Falls, So., F-C; Joe McLean, So., F; Delton Choates, Fr., PG; Chris DeFrancisco, Jr., G-F; Shawn Grandy, Jr., F; Tyler Meredith, Sr., G.bContending, especially hosting Class AA, which Falcons won last two times played at home. Not much height, but quickness, speed and stifling defense.
Seoul American FalconsYongsan Garrison, South Korea2005-06 record: 28-4, only losses to post-level teams, 15-0 KAIAC (champion), defending Class AA tournament champion.Coach: Charlotte Hicks, 22nd season.Key returners: Avianca Manning, Jr., F; Angye Law, Jr., G; Devanee Taylor, So., F; Erica Anglade, Jr., F; Toukie Randolph, Sr., F-C.Key newcomers: Jessie Bolander, So., F; Chrystal Pryear, Fr., G.Outlook: Contending. Even with 2006 Class AA tournament MVP Margaret Nurse graduated, Hicks still brings plenty of veterans and experience to the table, for this year and beyond.
Yokota PanthersYokota Air Base, Japan2005-06 record: 33-3, 30-game winning streak to close season, 13-2 in Japan Basketball League (champion), 14-0 1st in Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools (champion), defending Class AA tournament champion.Coach: Paul Ettl, fourth season.Key returners: Caiveon Thomas, Sr., F; Peter Weaver, Sr., F-G.Key newcomers: Riki Burns, Jr., F; Anthony McNeill, Jr., G; Duran Floyd, So., G; Desmond Shine, Sr., F; Cameron Shelton, Jr., F.Outlook: Rebuilding/reloading. Young squad, but should improve and perhaps reach Class AA Final Eight status by season’s end.
Zama American TrojansCamp Zama/Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan2005-06 record: 25-10, 8-6 JBL (third), 10-5 Kanto (second), 4th at Class AA tournament.Coach: Tom Allensworth, 12th season.Key returners: Wilberto Badillo, Sr., G; Aaron Tabor, Sr., F; Carlos Walter, Jr., C; Ben Bishop, Sr., G-F; Anthony Caple, Jr., F-G.Key newcomer: Sean Wise, Jr., G (transfer from Taegu American).b Contending. May be Allensworth’s best squad since his first one that just missed a Class AA title game berth in 1994. Sharpshooting three-point specialist Wise will open things up for a Trojans squad that’s otherwise athletic, balanced. “We’ll only go as far as our defense takes us,” Allensworth says.
Nile C. Kinnick Red DevilsYokosuka Naval Base, Japan2005-06 record: 22-9, 9-4 JBL (second), 8-4 Kanto (third), 7th in Class AA tournament.Coach: Nathan Brewster, fourth season.Key returners: Larynzo Abernathy, Sr., G; Victor Mason, Sr., F.Outlook: Rebuilding. Brewster must develop youngsters who can step in and somehow replace departed stars Paul Ergus and Travis Ekmark.
Robert D. Edgren EaglesMisawa Air Base, Japan2005-06 record: 15-13, 6-9 JBL (fourth), 3rd in Class A tournament.Coach: Andre Thibert, fourth season.Key returners: Kirk Chin, Sr., C; Zach Latimore, Jr., G; Darrick Lang, Jr., G; Josh Ray, Jr., F.Key newcomers: Vaughn Junchaya, Sr., G; Darryn Brown, Jr., F.Outlook: Reloading/contending. Eagles return to Class AA level after one-year absence; if they develop, could contend for league honors and Class AA top eight status.
Yokota PanthersYokota Air Base, Japan2005-06 record: 13-17, 5-7 JBL (third), 7-8 Kanto (fifth).Coach: Ricardo Cabral, fifth season.Key returners: Allora Bellanger, Sr., C; Daniya Nixon, Sr., G; Destiny Sanders, Sr., G; Diante Blakey, Sr., C; Samantha Little, Sr., PF; Anya Brown, So., SF; Stephanie Dolby, Jr., SG; Kimberly Wright, Jr., PF; Amy Edenfield, Jr., PG.Key newcomers: Lauryn Thomas, So., SF; Shaneka Booth, Jr., SG.Outlook: Contending. Experienced and deep squad with good outside shooting. Must control defensive boards if a Class AA title is to be in the conversation.
Zama American TrojansCamp Zama/ Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan2005-06 record: 26-8, 12-1 JBL (champion), 13-4 Kanto (second).Coaches: Parish and Veronica Jones, fourth season.Key returners: Cristina Eustaquio, Sr., G; Asheley Buck, Sr., C.Kew newcomer: Elizabeth Powell, So., G.Outlook: Rebuilding. Departed center Tiffani Wright will be tough to replace. Trojans should round into competitive shape as season progresses.
Nile C. Kinnick Red DevilsYokosuka Naval Base, Japan2005-06 record: 25-11, 10-3 JBL (second), 11-7 Kanto (third), 5th at Class AA.Coach: Henry Falk, eighth season.Key returners: Misari Buckley, Sr., F-C; Charlemagne Cameron, Sr., G; Stephanie Francisco, Sr., G.Outlook: Rebuilding. Long road uphill to develop plenty of youngsters with potential, but only three veterans return from Falk's Class AA runner-up squad of two seasons ago.
Robert D. Edgren EaglesMisawa Air Base, Japan2005-06 record: 8-16, 3-9 JBL (fifth), 10th at Class A tournament.Coach: Sarah Richardson, 17th season.Key returner: Krystine Horsley, Sr., G.Key newcomers: Britni Bledsoe, Fr., F-C; Vanessa Mandelin, So., F-C.Outlook: Rebuilding. Growing pains will be the order of the day in Eagle country.
Kadena PanthersKadena Air Base, Okinawa2005-06 record: 15-14, 3rd in Class AA tournament.Coach: Bob Bliss, fourth season.Key returners: Alex Mierzejewski, Sr., F; Jamil Barney, So., F; Shmarua Phelps, Sr., G.Key newcomers: Terrence Jenkins, Sr., G; Terrone Sheffy, So., G.Outlook: Contending. Bliss hasn’t finished out of the Final Four since he took over the team.
Kubasaki DragonsCamp Foster, Okinawa2005-06 record: 17-13.Coach: Jon Fick, first season.Key returners: Tsutomu McCoy, Sr., F; Quinton Mason, Jr., G; Michael Bennett, Jr., G; Tommy Fair, Jr., F; Michael Dickerson, Sr., G; Rodney Brown, Jr., F.Key newcomers: Josh Richardson, Sr., F; Vincent White, Fr., G; Jarvis Henson, Sr., F.Outlook: Rebuilding/reloading. Replacing departed senior triad Steven Thompson, Steven Ellis and Vance Maxey won’t be easy. Fick expects some rough spots at first, hoping Dragons will peak at full strength come Class AA.
Kubasaki DragonsCamp Foster, Okinawa2005-06 record: 12-18.Coach: Bob Driggs, 16th season.Key returners: Raelene Tajalle, Jr., G; Kyera Tennyson, Sr., F-C; M.J. Townsel, Jr., SG.Key newcomers: Jemetria Fletcher, Fr., F; Julie Monti, Fr., F-G.Outlook: Rebuilding/reloading. Could become a contender, provided the Dragons take care of the defensive end.
Kadena PanthersKadena Air Base, Okinawa2005-06 record: 21-9, 2nd at Class AA tournament.Coach: Ken Hudson, fourth season.Key returners: Zori Drew, Sr., G; Brittany Gilliam, Jr., F.Key newcomers: Stephanie Eik, Jr.; Tariqka Sheffy, Sr.Outlook: Reloading/contending. Six letter winners return from last season; host teams have historically done well in Class AA tournaments, winning the last five.
Guam High PanthersNimitz Hill, Guam2006 record: 4-4, four regular-season games remaining (season began Nov. 3)Coach: Jennifer Washington, second season.Key returners: Christina Sheaks, Sr., G; Courtney Shabazz, So., G.Outlook: Rebuilding/reloading. Panthers won’t benefit from timing of end of Guam season and Class AA tournament, two months apart.