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Girls basketball preview

Fields wide open on who will make it championship games

Ebony Dykes, who previously played for Seoul American, is now a senior at Humphreys; Dai'Ja Turner returns as a sophomore for up-and-coming Daegu's girls basketball team.

MARY SARANTAKES/SPECIAL TO STRIPES

By DAVE ORNAUER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 6, 2018

Johnny Cooper knows what a good team needs to do to accomplish the feat. The question, he says, is there any team in Division I that can step up and take down American School of Bangkok, the two-time defending Far East large-schools girls tournament champion?

It’s doubtful that it will be Cooper and his rebuilding Kadena Panthers. For five of the last six years, including the last two, Kadena has played bridesmaid to powerhouse teams that made every Division I tournament since 2012 a chase to see who finishes second. Kadena did win once, in 2016.

For the last two years, ASB’s Eagles, with their sister duo of Keisharna Lucas and two-time D-I MVP Shanique Lucas, have dominated all comers, winning two D-I titles and also last year’s combined D-I/D-II Far East tournament at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan.

And it’s a fairly sure bet that ASB will be invited back to defend its D-I title. Whether it’s in one of the early pool-play games or if the Eagles make it to the championship game again, Cooper, the Panthers’ second-year coach, offers the following:

“You have to limit your mistakes,” he said. “They capitalize a great deal on turnovers. You really have to take care of the ball. And you have to bring the game to them. Last year, we did that for three quarters. But you have to play a complete game against them.”

Cooper’s Panthers should be hard-pressed to make it back to the title game, given that six seniors graduated and two juniors transferred. Only one starter, Atiria Simms, returns.

It could be that Kubasaki, long the Panthers’ doormats on Okinawa, could rise up. Eight players return from last year’s team.

“This is by far the most talented team we’ve had top to bottom,” said third-year Dragons coach Steven Casner. “They’re going to give me everything they’ve got every day.”

Or it could be Humphreys, which moves up from D-II and welcomes Steve Boyd to the coaching helm. He’s coached boys teams at Seoul American and Robert D. Edgren since 2002, but never a girls team. He brings seniors Ebony Dykes and Maria Bruch with him from Seoul to Humphreys.

Nile C. Kinnick also has a new coach, Sherry Dailey, who coached Red Devils junior varsity the last two years. Kinnick gains a 6-foot-2 center, Madelyn Gallo, from Rota, Spain, and a freshman guard in Jordan Simms.

And while Eagles might again soar to a D-I title, the small-schools title chase could be wide open, now that Yokota’s super seniors, Britney and Jamia Bailey, have graduated.

Daegu, with new coach Jay Van, looks promising with super sophomores Bethani Newbold and Dai’Ja Turner still in the lineup. So, too, does Osan, with Brendan Rouse new to the helm but a veteran squad on the floor, featuring seniors Lizzy White and Maja Inthavixay.

Yokota’s cupboard isn’t entirely bare; five players return, but second-year coach Byron Wrenn still needs height in the paint.

“We are working hard and excited about the season,” Wrenn said. “We look forward to the start of the season and will compete with our opponents.”

Among other teams in rebuild mode, Zama looks promising, with four returners, including junior Jessica Atkinson in the middle. “We don’t have much depth,” new coach Daisy Whitaker-Hayes said, “but we have quality and I’ll take quality over quantity any day.”

ornauer.dave@stripes.com

Kubasaki's girls basketball team is hoping for strong leadership from junior guard Ari Gieseck.
DAVE ORNAUER/STARS AND STRIPES

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