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Steve Boyd has little doubt that his Seoul American Falcons have a starting lineup that rivals any he’s put on the court in the last six years, which have netted three Far East Class AA Tournament titles.

The question, he says, is how quickly he can develop a good group of sixth, seventh and eighth men to come off the bench to spell those starters, and step in in case one goes down with an injury.

"My lineup is solid. Last year, I had 10 guys, nine of whom could have started on any given day. I have five of those nine back; it means I’m really strong starting," Boyd said. "The problem I’m having is to develop the depth to win a championship."

With plenty of depth a season ago, the Falcons overcame a handful of injuries and even got through the whole season without senior All-Far East forward Andrew Luna, who missed the campaign with knee problems.

"Right now, it’s too early to tell" what he has in the way of depth, Boyd said.

They begin the process of finding out this weekend at the 39th Hong Kong International School Holiday Tournament, the team’s first big test.

Unlike last year’s guard-oriented squad, Boyd will bring more height to the table. Joining holdovers Joe McLean and Rai’dion Fails in the paint and Far East MVP Willie Brown on the perimeter are 6-foot-3 newcomers Chris Lobdell and Josh Edwards, to go with a pack of veteran guards.

"I have more athleticism and size than I had last year," Boyd said. "This team is much more talented athletically."

Many of them also have experienced what it’s like to be on the winning and losing ends of a Class AA tournament championship game. Seoul American lost to Kubasaki in the 2007 final and beat Kadena in the 2008 title game, both on the Falcons’ home floor.

"All the ingredients are there," Boyd said. "They know what it feels like to lose; they also know what it feels like to win, and understand the challenges, one thing to get to the top, another to stay there.

"You’re at the top of everybody’s hit list. Whether it’s a friendly, Hong Kong or Far East, everybody is gunning for the champions. We know that. My kids understand that. They already realize it."

They also might realize the grade of opposition they’ll face en route to defending that championship.

Newcomers Taiyo Robertson and Kai Yamaguchi bring explosive scoring punch to Kadena and Kubasaki, respectively. Jamil Barney of Kadena transferred to North Carolina for his senior year; in his place steps football veteran Jordan Ray in the paint, while Kentrell Key brings height to Kubasaki’s table.

With two-time defending Kanto Plain and Japan Basketball League champion Zama American rebuilding, Yokota and Nile C. Kinnick are likely to battle it out for those titles.

Veteran Keith Ross teams with 6-8 Hawaii transfer Maurice Allen to make Kinnick strong inside. Yokota welcomes a strong newcomer class, led by forward Keron Brown, to complement a strong holdover group.

At the Class A level, Robert D. Edgren’s lineup is dotted with several players who know how to win, thanks to the Eagles’ third straight Class A football title.

Seniors Drew Holder and Ethan Blake bring a strong inside presence, while junior Nate Ong and senior Johnell Alexander man the guard positions for first-year coach John Patton, who may have a title contender on his hands.

Daegu American lost scoring machine Brandon Spencer, but welcomes back 25-point scorer Thomas Brooks, who did not play last season. Coming so close and yet so far may be the best experience the Warriors could have had and could mold them into contenders, coach Phillip Loyd said.

As for the Falcons, Boyd thinks his team has the potential to be his most talented since the David Abramowicz-led 2004 Far East title squad.

"It remains to be seen whether we can duplicate that team’s accomplishments," he said.

Knowing full well his team has been fit with a bull’s-eye front and back, "we will rise to the challenge and answer the call," Boyd said. "At Seoul American, tradition never graduates."

Class AA capsule previewsSouth Korea

Seoul American FalconsYongsan Garrison 2007-08 record—50-7, 16-0 Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference Division I (champion), defending Far East tournament champion.Coach—Steve Boyd, seventh season.Key returners—Rai’dion Fails, Sr., F, 15.1 ppg, 10 rpg; Willie Brown, Sr., G-F, 12.4 ppg, 7.9 rpg; Joe McLean, Sr., F, 8.4 rpg; Marcus Thompson, Sr., G-F; Johnnie Hickson, Sr., G.Key newcomers—Trinadai Stansel, Sr., G; Josh Edwards, Sr., F; Chris Lobdell, Jr., F; Brent Spencer, Fr., G; Deion Craig, Fr., F.Outlook—Contending. Boyd returns half the roster that suited up for his third Class AA title team in six years, and will bring aboard welcomed height among a cadre of newcomers. Senior-laden, quite experienced. Good bet to make another deep title run.

Okinawa

Kadena PanthersKadena Air Base2007-08 record—36-14, 11-3 vs. Japanese high schools, 4-0 vs. Kubasaki in Okinawa Activities Council season series; defending Far East tournament runner-upCoach—Robert Bliss, sixth season.Key returners—Earl Gittens, Sr., G; Stanley Schrock, Jr., F; Kevin Paranal, Jr., F; Brandon Harris, Sr., G.Key newcomers—Taiyo Robertson, Jr., G (transfer from Lakenheath, England); Derreck Tate, Jr., G; Jordan Ray, Sr., F; Reggie Hennesy, Sr., F.Outlook—Contending. Even without Jamil Barney, who transferred to North Carolina for his senior year, Panthers still bring plenty of athleticism and experience to the table and boast a new high-scoring weapon in Robertson.

Kubasaki DragonsCamp Foster2007-08 record—26-18, 10-4 vs. Japanese high schools, 0-4 vs. Kadena in OAC.Coach—Jon Fick, third season.Key returners—Devin Roseboro, Jr., G.Key newcomers—Kai Yamaguchi, So., G; Dionte Waite, Jr., G-F; Lewis Finney, Sr., G; DaShawn Johnson, Jr., G; Michael Boudry, Jr., G; Kentrell Key, So., F.Outlook—Reloading. Only one varsity returner, but the emergence of Key in the paint and Yamaguchi along the perimeter gives the Dragons enough weaponry to replace the departed Chris Cooke and Jacorian Callier. May take time to develop, but they’ll be competitive by season’s end.

Japan

Zama American TrojansCamp Zama/Atsugi Naval Air Facility2007-08 record—29-8, 10-3 Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools (two-time champion), 7-1 Japan Basketball League (two-time champion), 9th at Far East tournament.Coach—Tom Allensworth, 14th season.Key returner—Desmond West, Sr.Key newcomers—Reggie Pitts, Sr.; Daniel Dulay, Sr.; Justin Williams, Sr.; Carlo Orcigo, Sr.; Adonis Jackson, Sr.; Michael Jorgenson, Fr.Outlook—Rebuilding. The great two-time JBL and Kanto champions of the past two years are now gone, leaving Allensworth and third-year assistant coach John Leipheimer to build with last year’s JV team. Gelling on defense, running consistent offense will be keys to forging another winning campaign.

Yokota PanthersYokota Air Base 2007-08 record—19-17, 5-7 Kanto (fifth), 6-6 JBL (fourth); 5th at Far East tournament.Coach—Paul Ettl, sixth season.Key returners—DeEric Harvin, Jr., G; Antony Phillips, Jr., F; Derick Seward, So., G (transfers in January); Trey Sauls, Sr., G.Key newcomers—Tajh Kirby, Jr., G; Myles Andrews, So., F; Keron Brown, So., F.Outlook—Yokota considers itself "always contending," Ettl said. Even with Seward leaving, enough veteran blood (Sauls, Harvin, Phillips) remains along with skills of newcomers Kirby, Andrews and Brown, the latter already making an impact.

Nile C. Kinnick Red DevilsYokosuka Naval Base, Japan2007-08 record—18-16, 6-4 Kanto (fourth), 7-5 JBL (third); 10th at Far East tournament.Coach—Michael Adair, second season.Key returners—Keith Ross, Sr., F; Trojuan Quinn, Sr., F; Will Traufler, Sr., G.Key newcomers—Tyree Hunt, Sr., G; Maurice Allen, Sr., C (transfer from Hawaii); Taylor Myers, Jr., F; David Moore, Jr., F; Devin Lewis, Jr., G; Josh Adair, So., F.Outlook—Contending "like every team I’ll coach from this point on," Adair said. Plenty of weapons and Devils can strike from anywhere on the court. Ross can do it in the paint or perimeter; Allen, at six feet eight, is not a scorer but a dangerous blocker and sure-handed rebounder.

Class A capsule previewsSouth Korea

Osan American CougarsOsan Air Base2007-08 record—16-15, 4-9 KAIAC Division I (fifth).Coach— Michael Hogen, first season.Key returners—Sean Moye, Sr., G; Dan Arnold, Sr., F; Adonte’ Murry, Sr., F; Kenny Brown, Sr. G.Key newcomer—Jonathan Carr, Sr., F.Outlook—Rebuilding. Hogen becomes team’s fourth coach in four seasons. Murry, Arnold and Moye form a solid core of returning experience, but there’s not much around them.

Daegu American WarriorsCamp George2007-08 record—18-9, 10-4 KAIAC Division I (tied for second); 6th at Far East tournament.Coach—Phillip Loyd, third season.Key returners—Marcus Lee, Sr., PG, 7 apg; Thomas Brooks, Sr., G, 25 ppg in 2006-07; Thomas Robertson, Sr., G; Larry Dixon, Sr., SG; Khiry Loyd, Jr., PG; David Martinez, Jr., SG; Josh Proctor, Sr., G.Key newcomers—Drew Snowden, Sr., G (transfer from Fort Hood, Texas); Antoine Feagin, Jr., G; Chris Swain, Jr., G (transfer from Seoul American); Devin Stark, Sr., F (transfer from Missouri).Outlook—Contending. Experience of coming close but just missing in the KAIAC, Class A tournaments "have made the returners hungry for more and the newcomers have bought into the idea of winning," Loyd said.

Japan

E.J. King CobrasSasebo Naval Base, Japan2007-08 record—25-8, 6-3 JBL (second); Far East tournament runner-up.Coach—Mike Milling, first season.Key returners—Jon-Jon Greene, Sr., G; Thomas Clayton, Sr., G.Key newcomers—Ryan Wagner, Fr., G; Kenneth Dixon, Fr., G; Mark Zirion, Sr.Outlook—Rebuilding. First time in five years the Cobras don’t take the court with Fernando Rico, Dominique Johnson, Marquis Singletary, Keith Williams and Blake Romero, all graduated. Greene and Clayton will try to infuse the attitude the Fab Five brought to a youngish squad. Wagner shows promise as a scorer; his dad, David, played for Yokota in the mid-1980s.

Matthew C. Perry SamuraiMarine Corps Air Station Iwakuni2007-08 record—0-5, 0-4 JBL (sixth).Coach—Chris Clark, first season.Key returner—Justin Clement, Jr.Outlook—Rebuilding top to bottom. After playing just five games last year due to player shortage brought about by illness and injury, Clark and Clement start over from rock bottom. Plenty of quickness, little size and experience.

Robert D. Edgren EaglesMisawa Air Base, Japan2007-08 record—11-14, 3-9 JBL (fifth).Coach—John Patton, first season.Key returners—Matt Salazar, Sr., G.; Nate Ong, Jr., G; Johnell Alexander, Sr., G; John Benavidez, Jr., F-G; Antonio Tatum, Sr; Drew Holder, Sr., F; Ethan Blake, Sr., F.Key newcomers—Jacob Sterry, Fr., F; Christian Weldon, So.; Josh Bergman, Sr.Outlook—Reloading-contending in JBL, contending for Class A title. Patton brings a strong pedigree (two conference titles, one European small-schools title while at AFNORTH), and his team is comprised of many folks who know how to win, thanks to the football team’s third straight Class A title.

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