Three Okinawa teams go off island to get different looks
By DAVE ORNAUER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 12, 2017
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa – Jahron Mitchell waited and watched on the left wing, awaiting his turn to shoot, while the ball buzzed around the perimeter like an angry hornet. It was a three-point drill, to see how many shots the players could make during a certain time span.
“Fifteen seconds!” Kadena coach Gerald Johnson shouted, looking at his iPhone stopwatch. Mitchell took a pass and released a jumper from behind the arc, going through the net, slick as a whistle.
A three-point shot that Mitchell made last season and says he’ll never forget, came almost exactly a year ago. Trailing the host team with time running out, Mitchell hit a three from the top of the circle at the buzzer as the Panthers edged Taipei American 58-57.
“It was a great feeling,” said Mitchell, a senior guard, of last January’s Taipei American Basketball Exchange, where the Panthers boys and girls and Kubasaki’s girls will head this weekend.
“It was a great way to start the weekend. It gave us intensity going into the next few games and we went on a winning streak after that.”
For the three teams, it represents a chance to play somebody other than each other and the up-tempo Japanese teams they’ve faced thus far, teams that press and play a fast-paced run-and-gun offense.
In Taiwan, they’ll play against Taipei American and Morrison Academy, international schools similar to what DODEA teams in Korea and Japan face regularly, along with two Chinese schools. They play a decidedly different style than Japanese, preferring a slow pace and zone defense.
But in addition to seeing different styles of play, Mitchell said the exchange last year conferred other benefits.
“It gave us confidence, winning those games,” Mitchell said. Kubasaki’s boys and Kadena’s boys and girls won all their games, giving the Okinawa district a 9-0 sweep in Taipei.
“It helped with our team chemistry. It helped us reach the Far East championship. We gelled together after that,” Mitchell said.
Kadena’s boys lost to Kubasaki in the Division I final a year ago, while Kadena’s girls finally solved the American School In Japan hex in their final.
“(The tournament) helped us work more as a team, and the challenges of facing other teams helped us get better,” senior Brianna McRae said.
Those opposing teams helped “expose some of our bad habits that we needed to work out and make us better the rest of the season.”
Elsewhere in the Pacific on the hardwood, two-time defending Far East Division II champion Yokota’s boys travel to Sasebo Naval Base where they face the team hoping to dethrone the Panthers, E.J. King, which holds the best record in Japan at 9-0. Yokota is unbeaten also at 4-0.
Humphreys’ boys, at 4-1 and fresh off a huge home win over Seoul American, travel to Seoul Foreign to face a Crusaders team that’s 5-1 and currently leading the Korea Blue regular season, which the Blackhawks won a season ago.
“Hoping it’ll be a barn burner,” Crusaders coach Paul Rader said.
And on the wrestling mats, the three DODEA Japan schools and three international schools in the Kanto Plain get together at ASIJ for the bulk of their regular-season dual meets. Seoul American travels to Cheonan, just south of Humphreys, for an invitational tournament.
Kadena's Rhamsey Wyche, last year's Far East Division I Tournament Most Valuable Player, and her Panther teammates return this weekend to Taiwan for the two-day Taipei American School Basketball Exchange. Kadena went 3-0 in the event last year, along with Kadena's and Kubasaki's boys.
DAVE ORNAUER/STARS AND STRIPES