Seoul girls, Morrison boys are heavy favorites
February 19, 2011
TOKYO — Most basketball teams boasting just one or two players averaging double figures in any statistic would not be considered a tournament title contender.
But coach Billy Ratcliff’s defending Far East Girls Division I champion Seoul American Falcons have good reason for not doing so — almost all their Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference games ended with starters on the bench and clock running due to the mercy rule.
“Not much playing time for these guys,” Ratcliff said of his 20-2 Falcons, winners of 19 straight KAIAC regular-season and Division I Tournament titles.
They’re prohibitive favorites in this week’s Far East D-I Tournament being held for the first time at Naval Base, Guam.
They were already strong a year ago when juniors Liz Gleaves and Destinee Harrison formed a potent inside-outside combination.
Add stateside AAU transfers Jordan Elliott, Mecca Perkins and Tillie Trounson and you have what Daegu American coach Michelle Chandler calls a “dream team.”
“They could legitimize our league by going over there and mercy-ruling every team they play,” Chandler said. “Heck, they could win the Boys Division I Tournament.”
Despite his embarrassment of riches, Ratcliff says he’s not taking anything for granted.
“We’re stronger than last year, we’re better than last year (but) I know this won’t be a cakewalk,” he said. “We have a big target on us. I have 10 players who are healthy and we’re a train coming.”
A player like Lynnette Grant or Kristina Bergman, cogs in Daegu’s title teams of 2006 and 2010, come along “once a decade,” Chandler said; Seoul’s collection comes along once a lifetime, she said.
“In my 14 years, they’re the best I’ve ever seen. There’s not much you can do about it. That Elliott, she’ll go one-on-two and hit a behind-the-back, no-look pass to Liz. They have height, speed, skills, agility; they’re a dream team.”
Seoul American and 15 other teams take to the Charles King Fitness & Sports Center courts Monday through Saturday for the D-I girls tournament. 20 miles to the north, defending champion Kadena leads a 16-team pool in the Boys D-I Tournament at Andersen Air Force Base.
The D-II tournaments are being held concurrently for the first time at one locale: Daegu, South Korea. The host Warriors will defend their girls title; Taiwan’s Morrison Academy is the reigning two-time champ for the boys.
Much of what’s being said about the Falcons girls is being echoed of a Morrison squad that’s 25-0, has scored 100 or more points in almost every game and is what coach Dan Robinson calls “the best team we’ve ever had.”
The Mustangs start five seniors who’ve played together since the sixth grade, including Robinson’s son, Sean. Six players average double figures in scoring. Though Morrison lost two-time MVP Stephen Hovater to graduation, “this team has shown better chemistry and execution.”
In the Boys D-I Tournament, Hong Kong International School (15-3) returns after a three-year absence. Led by senior Adam Xu, it looks poised to challenge for its first title in 17 years.
Hong Kong will face a stern challenge from Kadena (22-15), 2007 champion Kubasaki (34-8) and 2008 champion Seoul American (30-7).
“To be in that group is quite an honor,” Kadena coach Bob Bliss said. “But you can’t count out Yokota” which went 23-11 overall and 9-1 and shared the Kanto Plain title with Christian Academy Japan. “I’m expecting a good tournament.”
Daegu’s girls are “the team to beat,” Ratcliff said, in what appears to be the closest tournament of the bunch, the girls’ D-II. Ratcliff pointed to Bergman and freshman guard Sarah Wright as the cogs.
“They’ll be tough to beat,” he said. “Wright’s an accurate shooter, not afraid to drive. She sees the whole floor, there’s a good chemistry with her and Kristina. Only thing that hurts them is lack of depth.”
Despite that one knock, “My girls are hungry, they’ve played good ball and they’re excited,” Chandler said. “I’m liking a lot of what I see.”