Players drawn to Osan hoop tourney for a number of reasons

Jacobe George of the Camp Humphreys Bulldogs goes up for a layup against the Osan Defenders. The shot was blocked, but goaltending was called on the play.


By DAVE ORNAUER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 20, 2004

OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — There was a little something to be had for everybody playing on the first day of the 2004 Osan Pacificwide Open Holiday Basketball Tournament.

One undermanned team, Spotlight of Okinawa, overcame mountainous odds. One underdog, Seoul American High School’s girls team, learned valuable lessons in a one-point loss.

Others looked to the 15-team, six-day open tournament as a possible launching pad for a shot to play higher-level basketball. All three high school teams saw it as a chance to gain valuable experience.

There were even a couple of homecomings, of sorts, for former Pacific high school stars now toiling for post-level teams.

For Spotlight, putting a team on the court was considered miraculous, as eight of its 13 players were left on Okinawa because of duty commitments.

Yet there it was, taking a late six-point lead, then hanging on to edge Korea’s Kunsan Wolf Pack 63-62.

“It was a gut-check time for five guys who really wanted to play,” point guard Howard Reed said. “We knew the odds were against us. So, the plan was to just come here, have fun and play hard.”

For Seoul American’s girls, the idea was to gain as much experience as they could, figuring they would likely be outmanned and outgunned by bigger, faster and more physical women.

But against the Camp Humphreys Bulldogs, the Falcons engaged in a see-saw battle that featured 12 lead changes and 12 ties before Nieasha Wingster’s backdoor layup with 38 seconds left gave Humphreys the victory.

“That’s a mighty good team,” Bulldogs coach Douglas Clarks said, adding that he was impressed with the Falcons’ Janel Daniels, who had 34 points. “She has unlimited potential. She should be playing college ball or for a base team.”

Falcons coach Charlotte Hicks called the experience “more than she bargained for,” but could not have been happier that her team went through the crucible of a tight contest.

“KAIAC [Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference] doesn’t give us the competition we need. But they’ve been there now,” Hicks said of her players handling a tight battle. “This was a close game. We earned a little respect out there.”

“It’s not about winning and losing, but about growing as a team,” Falcons boys coach Steve Boyd said of the reasons Seoul American entered the tournament. “Whenever we take the court, it makes us better players individually and a better team collectively.”

It also makes better individual players of a number of hopefuls who someday would like to join the likes of Yongsan Runnin’ Rebels guard Ronald Bartley among the All-Armed Forces ranks.

Bartley is just two weeks removed from leading the All-Armed Forces team to a gold medal in the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers Europe tournament against 41 other teams. Tournaments such as Osan can help launch similar careers, Bartley said.

“You play in these tournaments, you get an MVP, an all-tournament selection, these are things you put on your application for [an All-Service tryout] camp,” Bartley said.

“These tournaments help out a lot. You’re playing All-Air Force, All-Army, All-Marine players and you see where your game is at.”

For still others, the tournament provided a chance to continue what they began on the Pacific high school courts.

Jessica Hagmaier, Osan American Class of 2003, played in the Osan tournament two years ago for the Cougars and is now playing post for the Osan Defenders base team, which beat Seoul American 65-45. She was the center on Osan’s 2003 Far East Girls Class A runner-up team.

Former Class A boys MVP A.J. Scott, on seasonal holiday from Boise State, donned the uniform of his old Cougars team, but had less success than did Hagmaier, as Osan American fell 110-44 to Korea’s Yongsan Runnin’ Rebels.

Another former Pacific prep player, Sanna Lopez of Korea’s Camp Humphreys Bulldogs, is an Army specialist who grew up as a Navy dependent in Santa Rita, Guam. She played for Southern and Oceanview High Schools in Far East Class AA Tournaments from 1995-98 in Japan and Okinawa.

“It’s ironic that I’m back, playing Pacificwide ball again,” she said.

Quinton Smith of the Osan Defenders goes up for a layup against Brett Thomas of the Camp Humphreys Bulldogs during Saturday's round-robin play. Osan won 73-68.