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By A.J. JANKOWSKI
Daily News Sports Editor
As the Ketchikan High School boys basketball team heads into the second half of the regular season, head coach Eric Stockhausen is adamant there is at least one area his Kings will improve in from the first 11 games.
"We’re going to be more aggressive," he said. "We have to be more aggressive."
Aggression: Potentially problematic if uncontrolled, but if harnessed, it’s a lethal way to level the playing field against bigger opponents.
Aware of their stature disadvantage from Day 1, the Kings know the answer to winning the battle on the backboards comes from their desire.
"Everybody in the state has bigger guys than us," said senior Brien Auger, Kayhi’s 5-11 post player, "so for one, we have to get tougher, and we also have to box out and crash the boards."
The Kings struggled to be the aggressor in a 64-48 loss at Thunder Mountain Jan. 5, letting the Falcons’ length and width win out against a Kayhi team running low on legs. The Kings opened the season with at least two games in each of the first four weeks of the season. By the time the team reached last Thursday’s game against Metlakatla, it was nearly running on empty.
"What people saw last Thursday was a tired group of guys that were trying to hang on until they had a break," said Stockhausen, whose team eked out a 42-36 win over the Chiefs. "Now that we're fresh and we've got all our bodies, and we've got new life, we're going to be the aggressor from here on out."
The Kings had a short walk-through Friday before getting the weekend off to recharge their batteries.
The rest did the team good, said Auger, who spent most of his free time relaxing with his family.
But by the time Monday rolled around, Kayhi was back in the gym preparing for this week’s tournament, as well as preparing to be more aggressive going forward.
The change in practice was noticeable.
The Kings attacked the basket on offense, and attacked the ball carrier on defense with quick feet and active hands. Kayhi closed out on shots, and got an arm — at least — on every opposing player before collapsing in the post for the rebound.
Making contact prior to the ball reaching the rim — which Stockhausen dubbed "getting a hit" — is intended to help neutralize another team’s size when it comes to grabbing a rebound.
"We want to carve out more ground, and then come get (the ball)," Stockhausen said. "Against Thunder Mountain and Juneau (Douglas), they are so much bigger and so much stronger, we have to stop their momentum early, and gain ground as the shot goes up — cause if we're battling as the shot hits the rim, size will win."
Stockhausen also encouraged his team to crank up the noise on the court, urging the Kings to be more vocal. A team not known for being boisterous, Kayhi was reticent at first, but by the end of practice, the coach’s voice wasn’t the only one filling the gymnasium.
"We were almost silent last year, and we're just two decibels above silent this year," Stockhausen said. "Pressure is not just physical, it can be psychological. If mom tells you to take out the trash, and then dad yells at you to take out the trash, which one puts more pressure on you?"
The Kings’ first chance to show their new demeanor to an opponent is Thursday against Chugiak in the opening round of the Alaska Prep Shootout at Dimond High School.
Chugiak is winless this year, but isn’t afraid to shoot from anywhere on the floor.
"They spread the floor — to all four corners of the half-court — and the coach's son, (Skylar) Fullmer, he's going to the hole," Stockhausen said. "They don't pressure much, but they are shooting 25-foot shots, and they are attacking the rim."
Long-range shots tend to lead to long-range rebounds, meaning an immediate test of Kayhi’s new-found style of rebounding.
"The things we've been working on, if we do them well, we should be able to limit (Chugiak’s) looks," Stockhausen said. "If we are late or not in the right position, it could be a struggle for us."
If the Kings can get past the Mustangs Thursday, they will face the winner between Dimond and Juneau-Douglas Friday. The other side of the bracket contains Grace Christian, Soldotna, Bartlett and Palmer — which Kayhi lost to 65-53 at the Clarke Cochrane Christmas Classic.
The Kings are 5-6 on the year, and have 13 more regular season games before heading to Sitka for the Southeast championships in March. Wanting to improve down the stretch, Stockhausen said changes in playing time might be coming as he begins to see who stands out in his system.
"You know, we're not satisfied with what we've done," he said, "and things may change on a daily basis based on who's getting the stuff done we need."
One player he singled out as worthy of a raise in playing time is senior Aaron Danao. The 5-9 guard has only one field goal this year — a 3 against Nome — in limited minutes, and has shown Stockhausen in practice he’s ready for more court time.
"Danao has stood out the last two days of practice — absolutely stood out," the coach said. "He comes out every single day and works hard, and there's been very little playing time for him, but that doesn't stop him from coming out and putting his best foot forward every day, and it's paying off for him."
With 13 games to go until the ones that matter most, Kayhi is hoping its added aggression pays off, too.
"It's not easy for them by nature — they are quiet, mild-mannered kids — but if you take a look, the aggressor will win," Stockhausen said. "And we need to be that aggressor."