Seoul American searching for Class AA hoop sweep
January 29, 2009
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Having the boys and girls basketball teams from the same school win the Far East Class AA Basketball Tournament titles in the same year is rare — it’s happened only twice.
Judging from their records and talent, the teams from Seoul American could very well become the next to do so, the first since 1990.
Each possesses three solid inside players — seniors RaiDion Fails, Joe McLean and Willie Brown for the boys, senior Devanee’ Taylor and sophomores Destinee’ Harrison and Diamond Person for the girls — and skilled point guards in senior Johnnie Hickson and sophomore Liz Gleaves.
Each continues to hold its customary spot atop the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference — the girls for 16 years and the boys for seven. The boys have won three of the last five Class AA titles, the girls two of the last four.
But the teams’ coaches are trying their best not to put the cart before the horse.
“We try to be humble about it, but we know we have a good shot at doing something at Far East,” first-year girls coach Billy Ratcliff said.
“It certainly looks good [but] I’ve looked good on paper before,” boys eighth-year coach Steve Boyd said. “The girls looked good on paper last year and the year before. It’s neat to look at, but there have to be other things that happen to fall into place.”
Still, the Falcons’ talent pool and their records speak volumes: Boys 14-0 in KAIAC and 29-9 overall, with all the losses coming without Brown and Fails in the lineup; girls 12-0 and 19-1.
The Falcons opened the season by defending their Hong Kong International School Holiday Tournament title. The girls’ lone loss came at that tournament, 69-66 to Singapore American.
McLean (13.9 points, 10.5 rebounds per game) and Fails (11.2, 8.1) spell one another at center; Brown, the reigning Class AA Tournament MVP, averages 12.3 points, 7.2 boards, 3.5 assists and 3.9 steals, while Hickson averages 10.6 points and 5.2 assists.
The four have been in the program for three years and were staples of last year’s Class AA title team.
“They have so much talent and they have that confidence level,” said Bob Driggs, Kubasaki’s girls coach, who observed the Falcons boys at Hong Kong. “They’ve been there. They’ve been tested and they expect to be there when it counts. He has that nucleus of guys.”
Depth had been a concern going into the season, but the play of forward Josh Edwards and backup point guard Brent Spencer off the bench has solved that worry.
“It’s getting more solidified,” Boyd said. “They’re playing a lot better off the bench, more consistency where I want it.”
Conversely, the girls were thought to be in total rebuild mode. Longtime coach Charlotte Hicks had retired and Ratcliff inherited a team with just two proven commodities, Taylor (14 points, six rebounds per game) and Gleaves.
But with Harrison (17 points, 7 rebounds, 4 steals) and Person (9 points, 5 rebounds) helping inside along with newcomer Tanisha Pettis, plus Gleaves’ athleticism at guard, the Falcons appear to have not lost a step.
“You don’t see it happen once in 20 years at a school,” Ratcliff said of the boys’ and girls’ talent similarities. “It’s very unusual.”
He says he’s particularly high on Taylor’s and Person’s shooting and moving abilities. He calls Gleaves (13 points, 4 assists, 5 steals) “one of the most talented athletes I’ve ever seen in high school.”
“Her athleticism is just nuts,” said Ratcliff, adding he could see Gleaves playing for the Falcons football team, for whom he’s offensive coordinator. “She could play receiver, defensive back, she could run the option. And she’s tough.”
Driggs refers to the Falcons girls as the “queen of the hop.”
“He’s got that talent. He’s got the bench. The question is who can step up and play them this year. Depth, balance; he’s kind of standing on the mountaintop,” Driggs said.
And most of Ratcliff’s charges are underclassmen.
“We have a good team for the future,” he admitted.
But can this year’s ultimate prize — a title sweep — be in the cards?
They must go on the road if they’re to achieve that dream; all five of those recent titles have been won on Seoul American’s home floor.
The boys’ biggest challenge may be Class AA host Yokota, unbeaten in 20 games. Hong Kong girls champion Faith Academy (25-0) might have its best team since winning four straight Class AA titles from 1997-2000.
“If we can stay healthy, if grades don’t come up and if we play like the team we are now,” Ratcliff said, calling his team “10 times” what it was in Hong Kong. “Not just the addition of players, but we’re just playing good.”
Still, “it’s whether the kids show up and play,” Boyd said. “I feel pretty good right now about our chances. We’re where we want to be right now. Three weeks from now, I hope that we’ll be ready.”