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Two banners hang overhead in the Falcon Gym at Seoul American High School in South Korea.

One banner denotes the Class AA Far East High School boys title the Falcons won there in February 2003. The other? All the names from that team, including Most Valuable Player Nino Etienne, now playing at Baylor.

Only three players remain from that team, and they’re preparing to defend that title this week in the same building.

Is it too much to ask? Seoul American head coach Steve Boyd doesn’t think so, and believes this group might be a better team — despite all the new parts.

“Once a team sets a standard, every other team wants to follow that pattern,” Boyd said. “Winning gets contagious. They realize, every time they walk in the gym and see the championship banner and the one with the names on it, it’s in their mind, every practice, every game, they see that. If nothing else, it has intensified matters.”

And the Falcons haven’t lost a step, at least in the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference.

They were 25-5 entering this weekend’s KAIAC tournament at Taejon, and they’re 14-0 against American and international high school competition. Their only losses came against military teams and Korean high schools.

All that has come without a star like Etienne. But if anything, Boyd said, it’s made the Falcons’ attack more diversified.

“We’re deeper, much deeper than we were last year,” Boyd said. “I don’t have the superstar that I had last year, but what I have is balanced scoring and rebounding, from a lot of people.”

Only three players average double figures, but everybody in the lineup has contributed quality minutes this season.

Jay Higgins had 10 or more assists in his past three regular-season games. Transfer Jake Abramowitz and veteran forward Luis Feliciano both average double figures in points and rebounds. The starting posts are 6-foot-4 or taller.

Reserves Corey Fisher, Phillip Douglas and Jamal Mohn have filled in nicely off the bench.

“I don’t have a ‘second team,’” Boyd said. “I call them my blue and my white team. We have some very aggressive practices.”

As defending champ, Seoul American is likely to be a big target. But after losing seven of 10 players from that club, some might consider the Falcons vulnerable.

“A lot of people might underestimate Seoul,” Kadena coach Brian Hill said. “So much was made of Nino, and now that he’s gone, that may play into Seoul’s favor. Maybe some people are not looking at them. They could slip in under the radar and bam, you have to deal with them also.”

There’s certainly no shortage of firepower in this year’s 16-team field.

Morrison Christian Academy, led by two-time All-Far East senior Jeff McKay, went unbeaten in Taiwan.

Carlos Whatley and Robert D. Edgren sport the best record in Japan, but Corie White and Yokota fashioned an 11-game winning streak. The Lynce brothers, Brenden and Leonard, make Nile C. Kinnick a threat, and Corey Stacy is a force for Zama.

On Okinawa, Kubasaki — runner-up the past two years — is in a rebuilding phase. But Kadena boasts veteran guard play (A.J. Morgan, DaJuan Kindell) and youth inside (Marvin Myrick, Z’aire Jackson), a formula that could produce the school’s first championship since 1999.

“We respect every opponent,” Boyd said. “But there’ll be extra incentive for everybody this year. You always want to take down the defending champion. We’re at home. We’re the team to beat. I’d be lying to myself if I said otherwise.”

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He served 10½ years in the Air Force, the last 4½ assigned to Stripes in Tokyo, and was then hired by Stripes on Oct. 25, 1985. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages Pacific Storm Tracker.
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