It’s rare when a basketball game — at any level — isn’t being played on either the TV or streamed on a computer inside the Smith household.
And on this day, Ketchikan High School girls’ basketball head coach Kelly Smith was watching an old game — from March 2018 — when this year’s Lady Kings’ senior trio was a group of sophomores.
Their individual performances in that Region V championship game were ones he didn’t remember, specifically. But the memories brought back excitement.
“All three of them came in and just, they led us in the first half of the championship game,” Smith said. “Nadire (Zhuta) had 10 points in the first quarter. I didn’t even remember that. I couldn’t believe it when I was watching it.”
The Lady Kings won that game 52-42, helped along by that group of then 16-year-olds. It was the program’s fifth region title in a string of six straight regional championships the Lady Kings have won.
“We had strong seniors back then, and those three came in fearless and just did their jobs,” Smith said.
But now, Lianne Guevarra and Madison Rose, along with Zhuta, sit in those same senior roles that their teammates did before.
My, how time flies.
“These three young ladies — I teach at the middle school, so I’ve kind of watched them grow since seventh grade,” Smith said. “They just love to be a part of the program. ... They do everything we ask. They’re great in school. They represent (us) every time on the floor, off the floor, in the community with the younger kids. All three of them have just been a pleasure.
“They came in (the program) together,” he continued. “They all had varsity chances as freshmen. And then they were huge role players as sophomores and juniors. And now it’s kind of their year.”
Indeed, it is their year.
And this weekend, when the Lady Kings host the Juneau-Douglas High School Crimson Bears, it will be their moment to take center stage.
Ketchikan will honor Zhuta, Guevarra and Rose prior to Saturday’s 7:15 p.m. tipoff time at Clarke Cochrane Gymnasium.
“They’re a special group,” Smith said. “They’re not the biggest; they’re not the fastest. They’ve gotten through with hard work and listening to the seniors and upperclassmen above them for three years, and watching some great leaders — AJ (Dela Cruz) and Hannah (Maxwell), and Brittany (Slick) and Ashley (Huffine).”
And just like those seniors before them, Zhuta, Guevarra and Rose have helped this year’s younger Lady Kings (12-8).
“Our young kids are definitely taking some strides,” Smith said.
Ketchikan will finish the regular season against the state’s top-seeded Crimson Bears (17-2) on Friday and Saturday at home. Friday’s tipoff is scheduled for 7:15 p.m., as well.
“We’ve got a plan (for Juneau),” Smith said. “We’ve tweaked (things on) offense and defense to try to do some things.
“I thought the last six games on the road, offensively, we’ve gotten a ton of good shots,” he continued. “We didn’t always make them. We lost the Palmer (High School) game by one (point on Feb. 7), where we missed 20 shots in the paint — right around the rim. ... So we’re getting good looks. Our turnovers are down. We’ve got to finish.”
That 42-41 loss to Palmer during a tournament in Anchorage started a three-game losing streak — but none of the losses were blowouts, as Ketchikan lost those three games by one, 10 and four points, respectively.
And in typical Lady Kings’ fashion, Ketchikan rebounded with a victory over Thunder Mountain High School on Saturday, giving them a dozen victories this season.
“Everybody was missing (shots) in the paint,” Smith said. “It’s a concentration thing. It’s going in expecting contact and fighting through it.
“In Anchorage, they let a lot more contact go,” he continued. “It’s just focusing on what you’re doing and going in strong. Wanting to attack the rim; not doing it because I’m yelling, ‘attack’ — wanting to go in there and score.”
In the Lady Kings’ and Crimson Bears’ last meeting — a two-game series on Jan. 24-25 in the capital city — Ketchikan dropped both games. But the Lady Kings held a four-point lead with four minutes left in that Jan. 24 matchup.
Juneau-Douglas senior Kendyl Carson was able to break through Ketchikan’s defense, lifting the Crimson Bears to a 51-46 win.
The Division-I caliber Carson has already signed a full ride to play basketball at Pepperdine University.
“She’s a 6’ player who can play all five positions,” Smith said. “And then the supporting cast around (her) are athletes. (They’ve got) a couple of the Tuckwood sisters, who are the top cross country runners in the state. And other girls who are just quick; they’re scrappy. And they play hard.”
That combo is why the Alaska coaches poll lists the Crimson Bears at No. 1.
“When you have a top player to go to ... it kind of makes everybody else’s job easier,” Smith said. “They’re solid.”
But while the Crimson Bears might enter the First City as the top team, the Lady Kings are beginning to formulate that young group for the next couple seasons. And they’re following in the footsteps of this year’s senior trio.
The confidence of sophomores like Shaelyn Mendoza and Jenae Rhoads, along with freshman Lindsay Byron, has continued to soar.
Confidence — just like this year’s senior group when they were sophomores.
“Shae is quickly establishing herself as the leader of this program for the next couple of years of her high school career,” Smith said.
Mendoza scored 41 points in two games against Thunder Mountain last weekend.
“She’s shooting about 89% the last couple weeks from the foul line,” Smith said. “She’s going there seven or eight times a game. She’s becoming that point guard leader that’s going to make us successful.
“And she’s just got a great attitude,” he continued. “She’s easy for kids to follow because she’s working her tail off. ... It’s unusual from a sophomore, which is why for the next two years, she’s going to walk in from day one next year as the leader that’s earned it, and has the street cred.”
This senior group had that ‘street cred’ as sophomores, as well — which is why Zhuta was fearless knocking down 10 points in the first quarter of a regional championship game. And the trio played vital roles in that 10-point win for a Region V title.
That region championship win came against Juneau-Douglas.
The history runs deep between the two schools.
And it’s bound to get a little bit deeper this weekend.
Home sweet home
This weekend will be the Lady Kings’ first home series in almost a month. They last hosted Thunder Mountain on Jan. 31-Feb. 1. They’re 8-1 inside Clarke Cochrane Gymnasium this season.
Ketchikan’s Nadire Zhuta, Lianne Guevarra and Madison Rose have brought their own intensity to the basketball court since they were freshmen.
And now in their senior year, the trio isn’t holding back.
“They’re kids we’re going to talk about for years,” Smith said. “I mean, Maddie steals the heart of the entire gym just watching her — how hard she works, flying in there with kids twice her size, and weighing three times as much as her. And she never backs down. ... And Lianne’s intensity and fire on the offensive end — just attack, attack. ... She comes up with huge plays for us.
“And then Nadire is just fearless shooting the ball,” he continued.
Rose is unavailable
Madison Rose will be unavailable for the final two games of the regular season. She missed last weekend’s trip to Thunder Mountain, as well.
Rose has had a nagging injury that’s kept her off the court. But she will participate in Saturday’s senior night festivities.