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Theresa Gittens and A.J. Scott share more than their passion for basketball.

They grew up together in the late 1990s at Osan Air Base, South Korea. By day, they’d share classrooms, then head to the Youth Center — often, to the basketball hoops.

“We always had a thing a long time ago,” Scott said. “She said she was going to be famous first. And she’s been in the paper a few times, so now that makes me feel that I have to do something big. And I still tell her, I’m going to be famous before her.”

Gittens has since transferred to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa; Scott stayed at Osan.

But they two seniors still share a bond: They’re reigning MVPs for the defending champions of the Far East high school basketball tournaments.

It won’t be an easy task when the teams try to win another title next week.

“You’re the one everybody’s going to be looking at,” said Gittens, Kadena’s point guard. “They’ll develop plays just to stop you.”

“It’s like another challenge,” said Scott, Osan’s power forward. “I have to work even harder. Knowing this is my last year, my senior year, I just put everything on the line, give it my all.”

Gittens has helped Kadena to a 13-7 record. One regular-season game remains, at Kubasaki on Thursday before the Class AA tournament next week on Okinawa.

Scott’s Cougars have a 10-4 mark, second best in the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference. They’ll defend their Class A title Feb. 25-28, at Osan. One regular-season game and the KAIAC tournament in Taejon will be played before Far East.

Dealing with added expectations has triggered a return to basics, they say — and not worrying about what happens until after the final buzzer.

“I don’t really think about it,” Scott added. “I don’t set a goal for myself to be MVP.”

“You’re not supposed to notice it,” Gittens said. “There’s more pressure if you do. I don’t want all that on my shoulders. … If I play right and play smart, everything will go OK, and I’ll keep my title.”

Panthers coach Ken Hudson said Gittens is doing “everything that any coach could ask, and more.

“She’s 100 percent doing everything we ask,” he said. “She’s got a pretty big load of expectations, but she’s handling it well.”

Teammates, veterans and newcomers have played key parts in the two MVPs’ success, they say.

“They’re the ones who carry me,” Gittens said of a group that includes All-Far East post Katie LaGrave, sisters Dianne and Jennifer Abel and veterans Kim Lyle and Alison Montes de Oca. “Without them, I can’t push myself. They’re the ones who calm me down.”

With graduations and transfers making room for new players, Scott is captain of a team vastly different from a year ago.

“We started out slowly, which I was expecting, but they come to all their practices, they give it their all,” Scott said. “These guys are great.”

Injuries have dogged Scott. He’s dislocated both thumbs since last summer and sprained an ankle late last month in Taejon.

Their teammates may provide fireworks but Gittens and Scott light the match, said Scott’s former teammate Michael Elkins, now a freshman at South Florida.

“We were in middle school, trying to get our shooting down, and A.J. was already dribbling like the high schoolers,” Elkins said. “And Tysa [Gittens], she beat us all at a game of 21 at the Youth Center every day.”

The two have kept up with each other via the Internet. Scott saw Gittens play during a weekend series against Osan and Seoul American over the Lunar New Year weekend at Yongsan Garrison. It was the first time the two had seen each other in two years.

“She’s improved a lot,” Scott said. “She’s a lot faster and has more endurance. Her defense has stepped up a lot.”

Gittens noted a growth in Scott’s game as well as his height — he stands 6 feet 4, a half-foot taller than the last time she saw him.

“As he’s grown, his mentality has grown for his game,” Gittens said. “He knows when he has to have the ball and take the last shot for the game.”

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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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