Contenders look to limit mistakes and reap rewards
Stars and Stripes January 27, 2024
Things are looking vastly different from a year ago regarding DODEA-Pacific’s Far East boys basketball tournaments.
Rather than a chase to see who finishes second, both the boys Divisions I and II tournaments appear to be much more an open race. While some teams appear strong, others have given those presumptive favorites a rough time.
So, don’t go counting chickens before the hen even takes its perch, coaches and players say.
“There’s a better balance in competition,” said Antiwon Tucker, coach of Kadena (17-2 this season), which fell by 30 points to St. Mary’s in last year’s Division I final.
While the Titans have a majority of their players back from a season ago, they’ve had to play from behind in many of their contests, coach Kris Thiessen said.
“We’ve had a lot of close games and these kids have fought back every time,” Thiessen said after his Titans won the American School In Japan Kanto Classic 1½ weeks ago.
They’ll be hunted by Tucker’s Panthers and Nile C. Kinnick, which lost to the Titans on a last-season shot 40-38 in that ASIJ tournament. Waiting in the wings in case one or three falter could be Kubasaki (8-10), ASIJ or Humphreys (5-9) in the six-team tournament.
Likewise, the Division II title chase could be up for grabs. Of the DODEA teams entered, six of the seven have at least seven victories this season. Defending champion Yokota has 12 after losing nine seniors from last year.
“Different team, different scenario, different season,” said Dan Galvin, thought to have retired after last season but who came back for one more. “We want to win, but we’re taking it possession by possession.”
The Far East tournaments are scheduled for Monday-Wednesday, the D-I back at Kadena’s Panther Pit, while the D-II tournament moves to Camp Zama’s Yano Fitness Center.
In any such tournament, the teams that keep their composure, run their offense and defense and keep errors to a minimum have the best chance of reaching center court Wednesday evening, coaches and players said.
“It’s not how I play as a player, but how we play as a team,” said Kadena guard Angel Torrado, who made the 2023 D-I All-Tournament team. “Perfect execution through an entire game will win the championship.”
He and his Panther teammates were in the stands at ASIJ on Jan. 20 when the Red Devils were called for a personal and technical foul on the same play, resulting in four foul shots that got St. Mary’s within two points and set up their last-second victory.
“We want to avoid what happened to Kinnick in the last game,” Torrado said.
Tournament experience can be a difference maker, said Osan coach Sebastian Tavarez. A year ago, the Cougars didn’t have a Korea post-season tournament to help hone them for Far East; this weekend, they played and won the Korea Plate Tournament on their home court.
“It helped unify our team and gained some experience for our less-experienced players,” said Tavarez, whose Cougars went 8-7 this season. “We’ll definitely be more confident going into Far East.”