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Zama American junior Darius Graves (21) shoots over a Sagamihara High School defender on Monday. Sagamihara edged Zama 54-52. Zama is 11-3 despite losing seven of 12 players from last season.

Zama American junior Darius Graves (21) shoots over a Sagamihara High School defender on Monday. Sagamihara edged Zama 54-52. Zama is 11-3 despite losing seven of 12 players from last season. (Dave Ornauer / S&S)

CAMP ZAMA, Japan — Like a bonfire, the memory burns brightly in the minds of Zama American’s returning boys basketball players.

It was Feb. 23, 2007, at Seoul American High School. At 34-0, the Trojans appeared poised to finally put an end to 44 years of futility in the Far East High School Class AA Tournament.

But eventual champion Kubasaki dropped a boulder on those hopes in the form of a 76-75 overtime victory. Zama ended up 34-2 and in fourth place.

Fast forward nearly 10 months. The returning players from last year say they carry a steely resolve to make amends and make another run at the title that was nearly theirs.

“There are a lot of people on this team who want this,” junior forward Nelson Bishop said last week after the Trojans edged Seoul American 72-67 in overtime on New Year’s Day at Zama.

That was a signature moment for Zama (11-3) — a bit surprising, considering the Trojans lost seven of the 12 players who saw varsity playing time last season.

“We feel we’re the Trojans, and we have to live up to that,” guard Anthony Caple said.

Caple and backcourt mate Sean Wise are among a handful of seniors who “don’t want to go out on a rebuilding note, but a winning note,” Wise said.

They’ve certainly begun well. Zama enters the new year in front of the DODDS-Japan League they won for the first time last year. Bishop has averaged 14 points and nine rebounds, Wise four three-point goals and 11 points and Caple 12 points.

Players credit the coaching of Tom Allensworth and John Leipheimer for the continued success. The coaches likewise compliment the players, and each credits the community for being behind the program.

“They work very well together,” Wise said of the coaches, and they impart the “little things that you don’t think about” to help the team play better.

Communicate. Move without the ball. Play defense with your feet. And many other things.

“They tell us all the things we need to execute and play with these teams,” Caple said. “Since the first day of practice, we’ve learned so much and gotten so much better.”

Leipheimer is just as effusive in his praise of the players.

“When you have kids who listen, work hard, execute and are as committed as these kids are, it makes our job easy,” he said. “They’re the first ones to the gym every day. They love to practice and play. And when you have kids like that, they’re going to do well.”

It’s a different type of team, Allensworth said, in terms of athletic ability and chemistry, especially not having the presence of a 6-foot-4 monster such as Carlos Walter, who transferred last spring, and fellow All-Class AA guard Wilberto Badillo, who graduated.

“But we have the same result,” Leipheimer said. “They’re doing things well. Last year, the seniors did such a good job of teaching this group, and hopefully, this group will do the same.”

Could they have envisioned an 11-3 record after losing so many parts from last season?

“I knew we would be competitive. I knew we would have a winning record,” Allensworth said.

But 11-3?

“I couldn’t say that,” Allensworth said.

Perhaps having a loss or three on their ledger, instead of the burden of keeping a perfect record, also is a good thing depending “on where you come out the next time, if you learn from your mistakes or improve on the mistakes,” Leipheimer said.

Attendance is high at both home and away games — even GIs with no students at the school come out to cheer on the team. Zama Youth Center director Chris McKibbin arranges buses for spectators and hands out pom-poms for them to wave. There’s even a mascot, Troy, decked out in helmet, chain mail, sword and shield straight out of a movie set.

“We’ve had a great following the last three years,” Leipheimer said.

“Chris does a nice job of supporting us. We’ve had a really good relationship with the youth center.”

McKibbin feels it’s a matter of the players, students, parents and community taking pride in where they are.

“It’s infectious,” McKibbin said.

“It goes across the board. You have good people in good positions, great coaches teaching players a lot about sportsmanship, attitude and responsibility.”

This week’s scheduleOkinawaBoys basketballThursday, Jan. 10 Kadena vs. Lekious Club at Chatan Junior High School, 7:30 p.m.Friday, Jan. 11 Oblee Club at Kubasaki, 7:30 p.m.Tuesday, Jan. 15 Kadena at Kubasaki, 7 p.m.

Girls basketballTuesday, Jan. 15 Kadena at Kubasaki, 5 p.m.

JapanBoys basketballThursday, Jan. 10 Zama at ASIJ, 5:30 p.m.Friday, Jan. 11 Yokota and M.C. Perry at Edgren, 4 p.m.; ASIJ at St. Mary’s, 5:30 p.m.; E.J. King at Kinnick, 5:30 p.m.; CAJ at Zama, 5:30 p.m.Saturday, Jan. 12 Yokota and M.C. Perry at Edgren, 10 a.m.; E.J. King at Kinnick, 10 a.m.; St. Maur at St. Mary’s, 10 a.m.; Yokohama at ASIJ, 10 a.m.Tuesday, Jan. 15 Kinnick at Zama, 5:30 p.m.; Yokota at ASIJ, 5:30 p.m.; St. Mary’s at CAJ, 5:30 p.m.; Yokohama at St. Maur, 5:30 p.m.Wednesday, Jan. 16 ASIJ at Kinnick, 5:30 p.m.; Zama at Fujisawa, 5:30 p.m.

Girls basketballThursday, Jan. 10ASIJ at Sacred Heart, 5:30 p.m.Friday, Jan. 11 Yokota and M.C. Perry at Edgren, 4 p.m.; E.J. King at Kinnick, 5:30 p.m.Saturday, Jan. 12 Yokota and M.C. Perry at Edgren, 10 a.m.; Zama and Yokohama at ASIJ, 10 a.m.; E.J. King at Kinnick, 10 a.m.; St. Maur at Seisen, 10 a.m.Monday, Jan. 14 Zama at Sacred Heart, 5:30 p.m.; Kinnick at ASIJ, 5:30 p.m.Tuesday, Jan. 15 Zama at Kinnick, 5:30 p.m.Wednesday, Jan. 16 CAJ at ASIJ, 5:30 p.m.; Sacred Heart at Yokota, 5:30 p.m.

WrestlingSaturday, Jan. 12 Kinnick Invitational “Beast of the Far East” dual-meet tournament, Yokosuka Naval Base, 9 a.m.Wednesday, Jan. 16Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools dual meets: St. Mary’s at Zama, 6 p.m.; Yokota at ASIJ, 6 p.m.

South KoreaBasketballDivision IFriday, Jan. 11Osan American at Seoul American, 3:30 p.m.; Korea Int’l at Seoul Foreign, 3:30 p.m.Saturday, Jan. 12 Korea Int’l at Yongsan Int’l, 9 a.m.Wednesday, Jan. 16 Seoul Int’l at Seoul Foreign, 3:30 p.m.; Osan American at TCIS, 3:30 p.m.; Korea Int’l at Daegu American, 3:30 p.m.Division IIFriday, Jan. 11 ICS-Pyongtaek at Centennial Christian, 3:30 p.m.Saturday, Jan. 12 Korea Kent Foreign at ICS-Pyongtaek, 9 a.m.Wednesday, Jan. 16 Centennial Christian at Gyeonggi Suwon Int’l, 3:30 p.m.; Global Visions Christian at ICS-Pyongtaek, 3:30 p.m.InterdivisionFriday, Jan. 11 Korea Kent Foreign at Daegu American, 3:30 p.m.Saturday, Jan. 12 ICS-Uijongbu at Daegu American, 9 a.m.; Centennial Christian at Osan American, 9 a.m.Wednesday, Jan. 16YIS-Seoul at Korea Kent Foreign, 3:30 p.m.

WrestlingSaturday, Jan. 12 Osan American and Daegu American at Seoul American, 9 a.m.

Game of the weekWrestlingNile C. Kinnick High School Invitational “Beast of the Far East” TournamentWhen: 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 12.Where: Yokosuka Middle School, Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan.What: First of two in-season Pacific-wide invitational tournaments incorporating DODDS schools and international schools, which until 2004 wrestled as one in DODDS-Pacific Far East tournaments. The second such tournament scheduled for this season is the first “Rumble on the Rock” tournament Feb. 1-2 on Okinawa.Participating schools: Edgren, E.J. King, Yokota, Zama, Kinnick, St. Mary’s International, ASIJ, CAJ; Kadena, Okinawa.Returning Far East champions: Chris Hoshaw (122 pounds), Jacob Bloom (148), Kadena; David Heitstuman (135), E.J. King.

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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.
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