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Home teams have enjoyed remarkable success in recent Far East Class AA basketball tournaments, a run unparalleled in other DODDS-Pacific sports.

Since 1986, 15 girls tournament hosts have reached the final. Ten of those teams won the title, including the past five. On the boys’ side, 17 host teams have reached the championship game since 1982 and 11 have won, including three of the past four.

Two unbeaten teams, Zama American’s boys and Seoul American’s girls, are looking to buck that trend next week, when the boys tournament is played at Seoul American and the girls tournament at Kadena on Okinawa.

“We’d like to do that,” said coach Tom Allensworth of the Zama boys, who went a school-best 29-0 this season, winning their first DODDS-Japan League title and the Trojans’ first Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools crown since 1994. “But we have a lot of work to do. It’s not over yet.”

Though they have yet to be tested by the six-day grind of Far East tournament play, the Trojans have proven their worth throughout the season, with several coaches remarking how this Zama squad differs sharply from talented groups done in by lack of team play and dissension.

“They play team ball,” said coach Paul Ettl of defending champion Yokota, which Zama thrashed 58-39 to clinch the DODDS-Japan crown on Tuesday. “They’re definitely a contender, perhaps even the favorite” to win the title.

The offense moves the ball upcourt and around the perimeter well. That creates openings for layups by frontcourt players Carlos Walter and Ben Bishop, or for finding guards Sean Wise, Anthony Caple or Wilberto Badillo open on the perimeter for three-point shots. Defensively, the Trojans show a number of looks.

“You need to stop the really good outside shooters, and they’re really good on the offensive boards,” Ettl said. “They get a lot of second-shot opportunities.”

Still, Allensworth and Ettl said, that’s no guarantee Zama is a shoo-in to complete the best season in school history with the biggest crown jewel.

“If you had to pick a favorite, if not Zama, then it has to be Seoul American,” Ettl said of a Falcons team that won the tournament the past two times it was played at Falcon Gym. “Being at home is an advantage in a lot of little ways people don’t think about. You get more sleep. You’re eating mom’s cooking. You’re more in your regular routine.”

Allensworth is aware the Falcons shared the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference title and won their last 12 regular-season games, and that teams such as the past two champions, Yokota and Kadena, must be reckoned with. Even Robert D. Edgren, which Zama beat handily the first weekend of the JBL season, has come on at the end.

“Edgren’s bringing a different team than we played. Yokota’s winning the close games. [Seoul American] is playing pretty good ball and [coach] Steve [Boyd] always prepares his kids well,” Allensworth said.

“Last year, I thought Yokota was head and shoulders above everybody,” he said. “There’s no team like that this year.”

Unbeaten seasons are old hat for the Seoul American girls. Coach Charlotte Hicks’ Falcons are two-time defending Class AA champions, have won the past 15 KAIAC titles and are unbeaten in their last 65 KAIAC regular-season games.

If anything, one opposing league coach said, the Falcons are perhaps a better team than the past two seasons.

“They’re more balanced and experienced,” Taegu American’s Michelle Chandler said. “They have the potential of a stronger team” than in 2005 and 2006. “And most of them are juniors.”

The strong guard play of Alyssa Gray and Angye Law and the inside play of forwards Devanee Taylor and returning All-Class AA players Avianca Manning and Erica Anglade helped the Falcons forge a perfect season despite injuries and emergency leaves.

Still, the Falcons’ 18-0 record might be somewhat misleading, Chandler said, because “of the weakness of the league” this season. “But those girls know how to step up.”

Then there’s the issue of playing on the road. The last three times the tournament was played on Okinawa, Kubasaki won in 2002 and 2004, and Kadena took the title in 2003. Kadena also enters the tournament with revenge on its mind, having lost the 2006 final 60-49 at Seoul American.

“It’s going to be difficult to repeat on the road,” Chandler said. “The biggest strike will be trying to do it at Kadena.”

“Charlotte’s got a solid group,” Kubasaki coach Bob Driggs said. “But [Kadena coach] Ken [Hudson] has a wealth of experience and playing at home will certainly help him.”

Far East Class AA basketball tournament capsulesGirlsDates: Feb. 19-24.Host: Kadena High School, Okinawa.Sites: Panther Pit, Kadena H.S.; Nakayoshi Gym (old Falcon Gym), Kadena Air Base.Participants: Nile C. Kinnick Red Devils, Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan; Hong Kong International Dragons, Hong Kong, China; Kadena Panthers, Kadena Air Base, Okinawa (’06 runner-up); Kubasaki Dragons, Camp Foster, Okinawa; John F. Kennedy Islanders, Upper Tumon, Guam; Seoul American Falcons, Yongsan Garrison, South Korea (two-time defending champion); Yokota Panthers, Yokota Air Base, Japan; Zama American Trojans, Camp Zama, Japan; Seisen International Phoenix, Tokyo; Christian Academy In Japan Knights, Tokyo; American School In Japan Mustangs, Tokyo; Guam High Panthers, Nimitz Hill, Guam; Simon Sanchez Sharks, Yigo, Guam; Southern Dolphins, Agat, Guam; Robert D. Edgren Eagles, Misawa Air Base, Japan; Kadena Panthers junior varsity.Returning All-Tournament players: Kelsey Masuda, CAJ (two-time selection); Avianca Manning, Erica Anglade, Seoul American; Zori Drew, Kadena.Format: Two days of round-robin play, 16 teams divided into four pools of four teams each, followed by four days of modified single-elimination playoffs with consolation.Schedule: Opening ceremony, 9 a.m. Monday at Panther Pit. Round-robin games from 10:30 a.m. Monday to 6 p.m. Tuesday. Playoffs begin at 9 a.m. Wednesday, continuing through championship game at 5 p.m. Saturday. Closing ceremony to follow.Awards: Most Valuable Player, five first-team, five second-team and 10 honorable mention All-Tournament players, Team Sportsmanship Award.

BoysDates: Feb. 19-24.Host: Seoul American High School.Sites: Falcon Gym, Seoul American High School and Collier Field House, South Post, Yongsan Garrison, South Korea.Participants: Seoul American Falcons (’06 runner-up); Kadena Panthers, Kadena Air Base, Okinawa; Father Duenas Memorial Friars, Mangilao, Guam; Yokota Panthers, Yokota Air Base, Japan (defending champion); Nile C. Kinnick Red Devils, Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan; Hong Kong International Dragons, Hong Kong, China; Kubasaki Dragons, Camp Foster, Okinawa; Christian Academy In Japan Knights, Tokyo; Zama American Trojans, Camp Zama, Japan; Simon Sanchez Sharks, Yigo, Guam; St. Mary’s International Titans, Tokyo; American School In Japan Mustangs, Tokyo; Guam High Panthers, Nimitz Hill, Guam; John F. Kennedy Islanders, Upper Tumon, Guam; Southern Dolphins, Agat, Guam.Returning All-Far East players: Caiveon Thomas, Yokota (two-time selection); Wilberto Badillo, Zama American; Shmarua Phelps, Kadena; Alex Mierzejewski, Kadena; Jude Martinez, Father Duenas Memorial; Andrew Luna, Seoul American.Format: Single round-robin, 16 teams split into four pools of four teams each, first two days. Modified single-elimination playoffs with consolation, last four days.Schedule: Opening ceremony 9 a.m. Monday, Falcon Gym. Round-robin play starts at 10 a.m. Monday. Playoffs start at 9 a.m. Wednesday, continuing through championship game at noon Saturday. All-Star game and closing ceremony follow.Awards: Most Valuable Player, 15-player All-Tournament team, skills competition winners, Team Sportsmanship Award.

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He served 10½ years in the Air Force, the last 4½ assigned to Stripes in Tokyo, and was then hired by Stripes on Oct. 25, 1985. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages Pacific Storm Tracker.
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