PacificFar East basketball
Differing styles will clash with titles on the line
Stars and Stripes January 28, 2023
Check out the tournament formats and lists of past winners.
URUMA, Okinawa – They may be as different as two teams can be as they lace up their shoes for the first DODEA-Pacific Far East basketball tournaments since 2020.
Daegu’s girls team, unbeaten in 10 games in Korea’s second-tier Red Division, features perhaps the biggest player of all the eight teams in the Division II tournament, 6-foot junior Jasmine Harvey.
Not especially quick, but difficult to defend and box out, she can convert offensive rebounds into instant points. And the Warriors have a solid point guard in Zoe Stegall who can shoot as well as find the open player with bullet passes; a freshman, but hardly new to the game.
“Well-rounded team, this one is,” Daegu athletics director Blake Sims said of the Warriors, who finished second in the last Far East tournament that reached completion, in 2019. “The best I’ve seen in my nine years at Daegu. This team has multiple options.”
E.J. King, 16-2 on the season, best among D-II teams in Japan, is all about speed and quickness, baskets in transition and running opponents ragged. Led by sophomore twins Moa and Miu best, the Cobras’ starting five is tough to defend, but they’re not tall nor especially deep.
That could be the D-II tournament’s most intriguing matchup; they square off at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Day 2 of pool play at Camp Zama’s Yano Fitness Center.
The Cobras do have one advantage over the Warriors: King played in last weekend’s American School In Japan Kanto Classic, while the Warriors were the only one of three DODEA-Korea schools who did not.
“ASIJ was very competitive, which helped keep the team sharp and eager to become better and ready for Far East,” Cobras coach McKinzy Best said. “We also got a chance to see some of the teams that we will play against prior to Far East.”
Play begins Monday in the four Far East tournaments, which come off the shelf after three years due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Humphreys, which hosted the last Far East boys basketball tournament, remains the reigning Division I boys champion from 2019. But prior to that, no Korea team had won a Far East since 2014; thus, DODEA-Korea teams tend to be viewed as good “only in Korea.”
The Blackhawks (8-5) may have sounded a warning shot at the ASIJ tournament when they edged Kadena 88-86 in a playoff game. Humphreys assistant coach Ashley Gooch said that served as a confidence boost.
“A lot of our boys haven’t seen competition outside of Korea, they hadn’t been to ASIJ, they hadn’t been to Far East; they only knew of Kadena’s legacy,” Gooch said. “To beat Kadena … showed what they’re capable of outside of Korea.”
The Panthers, 13-10 so far this season, have lost six games by three points or less, finally getting a close victory 42-39 Friday over arch-rival Kubasaki. “We have to find a way to finish,” Kadena coach Antiwon Tucker said.
Both of those teams and others in the Boys D-I tournament could have their hands full with senior Roy Igwe and St. Mary’s (15-2), which won the ASIJ tournament boys title and are considered heavy D-I favorites.
Like the Kadena boys, the Panthers girls are also seeking redemption, after losing in the ASIJ tournament final to St. Paul Christian of Guam. Rather than making them feel down, Panthers sophomore guard NyKale Penn says the loss has lit a fire under them.
“We are so motivated. We are so ready,” Penn said. “We were so close. It hurt more because we thought we’d had it. We were there. And because we were there, we want to go a little bit more.”
Injuries might also play a factor – Yokota’s boys, senior-heavy and viewed as a prohibitive favorite in Boys D-II, lost arguably one of the best players in the Pacific, senior Zemon Davis, who tore an ACL during the ASIJ tournament and is lost for the season.
“We had two good games this week, we learned how to play without Zemon, but it’s definitely a different team without him,” Panthers coach Dan Galvin said. Yokota entered the ASIJ tournament 14-0 and exited 17-2. “Everybody’s upbeat and we have a lot of confidence.”
Every team will get at least six games, and as many as nine in the girls D-I tournament in which there are seven teams playing a true round-robin the first two days.
“It will be taxing,” said Kadena girls coach Ed Manalac. “Whoever’s more prepared physically and conditioning will have an advantage in that aspect.”