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From left, juniors Tommy Fair and Quinton Mason and senior Tsutomu McCoy are trying to help Kubasaki overcome losing graduated seniors Steven Ellis, Steven Thompson and Vance Maxey.
From left, juniors Tommy Fair and Quinton Mason and senior Tsutomu McCoy are trying to help Kubasaki overcome losing graduated seniors Steven Ellis, Steven Thompson and Vance Maxey. (Dave Ornauer / S&S)

It¡¦s a rite of passage as old as high school basketball: being a powerhouse one year, then rebuilding the next, once the star players depart.

Add the transfers that typify Department of Defense Dependents Schools and many Pacific teams that contended for league and Far East tournament honors last season now find themselves uttering the dreaded ¡§R¡¨ word.

¡§Not an easy assignment,¡¨ said Paul Ettl, in his fourth season coaching a Yokota Panthers boys team that won the Far East Class AA title in February but this season must make do without six departed seniors, including Class AA MVP Cameron Cooper.

Others facing a similar trick:

ƒÞDefending Class A girls champion Taegu American bid farewell to seniors Kelli Cox, Tank Hancock and MVP Lynnette Grant (killed in a September car crash in Alabama).

ƒÞTwo-time Class AA girls titlist Seoul American saw MVP Margaret Nurse graduate in June.

ƒÞThe most storied program in Class AA boys history, Kubasaki of Okinawa with 10 titles, began this season minus its senior core of Steven Thompson, Steven Ellis and Vance Maxey, and with a new coach, Jon Fick.

ƒÞNile C. Kinnick, for four years the most consistent Japan Basketball League power, hit the court for the first time since 2002-03 without guards Travis Ekmark and Lualhati Johnson.

ƒÞZama American¡¦s girls, 2005 JBL champion, saw cornerstone center Tiffani Wright depart.

ƒÞOsan American¡¦s girls, 2005 Class A champs, are playing small after 5-foot-11 Jessica Richert transferred.

Coaches chalk it up to trying to build a program within DODDS¡¦ parameters.

¡§You never know,¡¨ Henry Falk said. Kinnick¡¦s girls coach since 1999-2000, he considers himself ¡§lucky¡¨ to have had a strong veteran core most years. ¡§This year, it¡¦s a different story.¡¨

¡§It¡¦s just like starting over,¡¨ Taegu girls coach Michelle Chandler said, adding that the reality of rebuilding hit almost at the final buzzer at the Warriors¡¦ championship victory.

That Ekmark and rebounding cohort Paul Ergus graduated ¡§has been on my mind a lot,¡¨ Kinnick boys coach Nathan Brewster said. ¡§People are going to ¡K say that obviously it¡¦s a rebuilding season. I can¡¦t argue with that.¡¨

Stateside programs often have players developed in middle school stay throughout high school. DODDS coaches lack middle-school programs and have players who transfer the way some people change socks.

Said Brewster: ¡§We¡¦re getting freshmen who start at square one whereas in the States, they know what a pick is, how to shoot and defend correctly.¡¨

So, how do coaches rebuild? Above all, they stress to their players to forget the past and move forward with what they have.

¡§You never say you¡¦re not going to be good¡¨ because the stars are gone. ¡§They know that already. We¡¦re here to make ourselves. The only ones who can do that are us. I can [coach] until I¡¦m blue in the face, but they¡¦re the ones who have to do it,¡¨ Falk said.

Fick will build behind a core of returnees including senior Tsutomu McCoy and juniors Tommy Fair and Quinton Mason.

¡§We won¡¦t have the guy who¡¦ll put in 40 points a night,¡¨ he said, ¡§but we will play a team-oriented game ¡K unselfish play.¡¨

Brewster knows what he has in senior leaders Victor Mason and Larynzo Abernathy but ¡§eight of them, I don¡¦t know what they¡¦re going to do in the ¡¥show,¡¦ so to speak. ¡K I won¡¦t be as concerned as much about record as I have been in the past but we¡¦re going to be as competitive as possible.¡¨

For others, it¡¦s not as if the cupboards are completely bare.

Seoul American got off to a 4-1 start thanks to holdover sophomore Devanae Taylor and juniors Avianca Manning and Erica Anglade. ¡§I knew I was going to have a halfway decent team,¡¨ coach Charlotte Hicks said. ¡§We¡¦ve not missed Marge (Nurse) that much.¡¨

Taegu¡¦s girls have begun the building process thanks to what Chandler calls her first ¡§true point guard,¡¨ Sarah Eades, and freshman LaShae Denson.

The Warriors opened by winning their first two games but that¡¦s not Chandler¡¦s main goal.

¡§It¡¦s great to win,¡¨ she said ¡§But the best thing is for them to be successful, independent young ladies with self-esteem.¡¨

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