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Kadena boys triumph in Okinawa tourney

TINA DAVIS/SPECIAL TO STRIPES

By STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 3, 2019

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – Blake Dearborn and Kadena ended a four-year title drought in the Okinawa-American Friendship Basketball Tournament on Sunday.

The junior center just missed a double-double, scoring 12 points and grabbing nine rebounds as the Panthers won the tournament for a record fifth time since its inception in 2007, but had to hold off Oroku, a Japanese team, 38-37 in Sunday’s final.

“That was a nail biter,” Panthers first-year coach Antiwon Tucker said. Kadena was leading by that final margin when it turned the ball over with three seconds left. Oroku then missed a shot to win it as the buzzer sounded. Oroku is the third-rated Japanese team on island.

Casey Cox, Eric McCarter and Kai Morris each added eight points for the Panthers. Skyler King pulled down 10 rebounds.

“We were able to use our size,” Dearborn said of playing the fleet-footed, but smaller Japanese teams in the Friendship Tournament.

Getting tournament experience is helping the Panthers grow as a team, Tucker said; the Okinawa-American was the second tournament Kadena has played in two weeks.

They finished fourth a week earlier in the American School In Japan Kanto Classic, which Tucker said boosted Kadena in this tournament and helped prepare them for the Far East Division I Tournament later this month at Camp Humphreys in South Korea.

“It was a tremendous help,” Tucker said. “It showed us where we are and where we stand for Far East and where we can get better.”

Dearborn figures to be a big part in Kadena’s bid for a first Division I Tournament title in nine years, Tucker said.

“He’s a big part of the team,” Tucker said, adding that he still has room to grow as a player. “If he can play to his full potential, we can be competitive” at Far East.

Last year’s Okinawa-American Friendship champion Kubasaki finished fourth, losing in the third-place game 85-61 to Kitanakagusuku.

On the girls side, both Kadena and Kubasaki finished out of the top four, losing in the quarterfinals, the Panthers 45-41 to Futenma and the Dragons 60-24 to Koza. Itoman won the girls title 60-35 over Koza.

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