Boys' basketball: Falcons' hopes rest on a tall pair of shoulders
At 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-6, the Metcalf brothers are pretty easy to spot, towering over every one of their basketball teammates on the Falcon Gym court, along with most every student walking the hallways of Seoul American.
Just having DeAndre Metcalf, a senior, and his sophomore brother Quintin would make the Falcons favored for their second Korea Blue regular-season title in three years and 11th overall on coach Steve Boyd’s watch. He also won his 12th league postseason tournament title.
But how to replace departed All-Far East guards Jezreel Harper and Myles Haynes? That’s a different issue, and Boyd and his longtime assistant Keith Fointno plan to rely on a blend of returners and new faces to fill the gaps.
“That’s what we’re working on now,” Fointno said, citing specifically senior guard Donovan Scott. Others in the running are returning junior varsity MVP Willie Grandison, seniors Sam Broach and Ken Paclipan, junior Josh Nix and youngsters Gary Moran and Manual Villereal.
“Scott contributed quite well during Far East” last February on Okinawa, where the Falcons followed their Korea record with a fourth-place Division I finish. No matter who ends up starting, though, “We will have players who can get them (Metcalfs) the ball,” Fointno said.
That would suit the twin towers fine, given that DeAndre averaged 11.2 points and 10.1 rebounds and Quintin 9.7 and 8.5 per game, and the coaching staff expects those numbers to only increase.
“It’s a matter of preparing our boys to compete and do their best,” Fointno said, mindful that the Falcons have gone nine years since winning the Far East title and have had their struggles on Okinawa, where Far East takes place Feb. 20-23.
“The last couple of years, it hasn’t worked out for us, but we’re hoping this year, it will,” Fointno said.
They’ll likely have their hands full with a Humphreys team that won its first Korea Blue regular-season title a year ago and placed second in both the Korea Blue and Far East Division II tournaments.
Most of their players are back and coach Ron Merriwether feels the addition of 6-3 center Brice Bulotovich – who missed last season – could be the final piece to that puzzle.
“We’re here to reload and contend,” Merriwether said.
The Blackhawks could hold the edge over the team that brought them down in the D-II final last season. Yokota, which beat Humphreys 67-51 in the final, welcomes Tim Pujol back to the coaching spot after a five-year hiatus.
But the Panthers lost the bulk of the team that won D-II, DODEA-Japan and shared the Kanto Plain title.
“That’s the nature of the beast,” said Pujol, stepping in for Dan Galvin, who’s taking the season off.
But Pujol noted that since 2000, only he, Galvin and Paul Ettl have coached the team and “we share the same philosophy. We’re going for a little continuity. That has the lowest impact on the kids.”
Some elements of the team that has won the last two D-II titles do return, such as MVP Hunter Cort, Marquis Smith-Brown and Cody Rowan, the latter the son of former Japan sumo grand champion Akebono.
“During Far East last year, Cody and Marquis played some very important minutes,” Pujol said. “Hunter is definitely going to be a leader for us, no question about that.”
A lack of experienced big men may be one thing standing in the way of a third straight D-I finals appearance for Kadena, which has lost to Kubasaki the last two years.
They return senior guards Justin Wilson and Jahron Mitchell and welcome K.J. Caver, a Texas senior, but their big men are mostly untested.
The question for two-time defending champion Kubasaki may be who leads the Dragons, since eight seniors graduated.
Senior Xavier Carmouche saw the most playing time on the Dragons a year ago. He’s joined by junior Elonzo Higginson, who’s grown four inches to 6-1, and 6-3 Ilijah Washington, a junior who could start at center. Stateside transfer Jonathan Baker, a 6-1 junior, also shows promise, coach Jon Fick said.
“We have a good core of juniors, four juniors, a couple of seniors and some good freshmen,” Fick said. “We’ll be competitive. We’ll take our lumps, we’ll take our hits” early in the season. “I’m sure nobody feels sorry for us.”