Coach Steve Boyd, left, is counting on his junior backcourt tandem of Jamaal Mohn, center, and Jay Higgins — the "J-Birds" — to help fuel the Seoul American Falcons' bid for another Far East High School Boys Class AA (large schools) title.

Coach Steve Boyd, left, is counting on his junior backcourt tandem of Jamaal Mohn, center, and Jay Higgins — the "J-Birds" — to help fuel the Seoul American Falcons' bid for another Far East High School Boys Class AA (large schools) title. (Dave Ornauer / S&S)

For the past two years, Seoul American has ridden the broad shoulders of two transfer stars to the school’s second and third Far East High School Boys Class AA titles.

Now, with Nino Etienne and Jake Abramowitz distant memories and no transfers in sight, coach Steve Boyd is relying on home-grown talent, players who have come up through his system and know what’s expected.

And if Seoul American’s tournament hopes are to lift off this year, it may be on the wings of the “J-Birds,” juniors Jay Higgins and Jamaal Mohn, two guards who assert they “are steeled for the challenge that lies ahead.”

“There’s no pressure,” said Mohn, who backed up Higgins at point guard last year and takes over the starting role this year, while Higgins moves to shooting guard. “Just come out and do what we always do. As long as I have Jay by my side, I know we can show what Seoul American is made of.”

Such attitude is what Boyd expects from his guard tandem — who, he contends, are the two to lead the drive for a three-peat.

“These guys know their roles. They know what’s expected,” Boyd said. “The other guys are an important part of the team, but these are the guys who make us go. They are the glue. And they have the ability.”

So far, at least, the “J-Birds” have lived up to their promise, helping keep Boyd unbeaten in 47 Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference games since he took the helm three seasons ago. The Falcons have not lost to a high school team since the 2002 Class AA tournament.

They opened the league season 3-0; they’re 9-12 overall, including games against military teams. Mohn has averaged 13.1 points, 4.8 assists and 2.9 steals per game; Higgins, 9.8 points, 10.1 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.8 steals.

Still, it’s early — and Etienne (26.8 points, 15.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 4.7 steals) and Abramowitz (15.2 points, 10.8 rebounds) raised the bar to nosebleed territory, earning back-to-back MVP awards in leading the Falcons to their successive Class AA titles.

Higgins and Mohn say they try to emulate the examples, not the statistics, of the two MVPs.

“I learned more from them than anybody, leadership, being able to handle yourself under pressure, that your teammates can say, ‘Hey, if he’s under control, then everything’s cool,’” Higgins said.

“You learn to make sure that everybody is doing what they’re supposed to do,” Mohn said. “You play your hardest.” Teammates, he said, “are looking up to you for leadership.”

“Nino and Jake set a good example,” Higgins said. “After seeing them do it, I realized it’s not as hard as it seems, and it’s easier when I have somebody there to help.”

Not only are the Falcons aiming for three straight Class AA titles, they’re doing it knowing they’ll lack any home-court advantage: Kadena of Okinawa is hosting this year’s tournament.

“The expectation is higher. The stakes are higher,” Boyd said. “Once you’ve been to the top, it’s hard to go back. We’ve set a standard at Seoul American. And this one’s going to be tougher. We’re going on the road. New gym, not the home crowd, different weather.”

Higgins and Mohn certainly won’t be strangers to the rest of the Far East — particularly the coaches whose teams the Falcons vanquished in the past two Class AA finals.

“They’ve been steady, they get the job done and they do it in a good, steady team concept,” said Chris Sullivan, whose Kubasaki Dragons of Okinawa fell 84-74 to Seoul American in the 2003 Class AA title game.

“Jay is tall; he can pass over any defense or back in and shoot over his opponent,” Sullivan said. “Jamaal (is) a sparkplug off the bench. He’d come in and give the team instant energy, which is important for a sixth man.”

Mohn’s sixth-man abilities, indeed the depth of Seoul American’s entire roster, left coach Nathan Brewster suitably impressed. His Nile C. Kinnick Red Devils of Japan fell 76-48 to the Falcons in the 2004 Class AA final.

“They never missed a beat when the bench came in and they just killed us,” Brewster said. “It was almost like they were playing by committee.”

That Higgins and Mohn still are underclassmen and are to be there next season too, is “not good, for us or anybody else for that matter,” Brewster said.

The Falcons may lack standout players in the Abramowitz-Etienne mold, but Higgins said the lineup, featuring 5-11 senior speedster Phillippe Anglade, junior three-point specialist Jeremy Christopher and 6-6 sophomore Anthony Gatlin, may be “just as strong as ever.

“We have developed as players and gotten better over the years and the supporting cast will help us out also,” he said, adding that the key will be controlling the boards, getting out on the fast break and finishing. “If we do that, we’ll be all right.”

“It’s easier said than done, though,” Mohn added. “We have to bring out the determination. We know we’re capable. If we show that at Far East, then nobody can hang with us.”

author picture
Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now