Juneau-heavy Merchants break Klukwan's Hotch streak

 


A Juneau-imported Haines Merchants team won the Dick Hotch Memorial Basketball Tournament on Sunday, topping a physically imposing Whitehorse squad, 74-68, at Karl Ward Gymnasium.

Alex Heumann, the tournament’s Most Valuable Player and top overall scorer, poured in 37 points for the Merchants in the title game. He tallied 181 points in five contests, an average of 36 a game. Heumann wasn’t particularly flashy; he just made shots – a lot of them – from all over the court.

Haines did have representation on the Merchants, as guard Bryan Combs recruited athletes to round out the six-team field.

“I wanted to bring another competitive team together and I knew guys from Juneau,” he said.

Combs, honored for “Best Defense” at the competition, said he felt “tired, sore and happy we won” following the narrow victory over Whitehorse.

The Merchants weren’t exactly newcomers to Dick Hotch. A slimmed-down Bubba Larson switched over to the Merchants after suiting up for the Harbor Heat in 2014 and leading that tournament in scoring. He was held to 2 points in the championship this year but still earned first-team all-tournament recognition. Heumann and second-teamer Adam Nelson have competed for Juneau squads at Dick Hotch, most recently for the 2012 runners-up.


Whitehorse had been absent from the tournament since taking the title in 2012. That team featured MVP Colin LaForme, who was listed at 6’10’’ when competing for Division I Youngstown State University in Ohio. While LaForme was not on the 2015 squad, Whitehorse had another post player, Jeremy McCulloch, who stood nearly seven-foot and literally ducked when entering the gym.

Impressive but not dominant early, McCulloch took his game to another level in the championship, notching 18 points in the first half. The big man with a smooth shooting stroke finished with 22 points, exiting the game with a left ankle injury when Whitehorse trailed, 61-58, with nearly five minutes remaining.

The Klukwan Chilkats finished third, with a 3-2 record. Other entrants were Hoonah, the Chilkat Warriors of Juneau, and the Harbor.

The tournament predicted to have six evenly-matched teams delivered, as an entrant like the Harbor seemed capable of winning the championship but instead was the first squad eliminated on Saturday afternoon. James Hart was a second-team all-tournament performer, and teammate Richard Bachman at times seemed incapable of missing three-pointers. Bachman led the field in three-pointers made over the four-day competition.


When the Klukwan Chilkats took the court Thursday evening, they were without Andrew Friske, a past MVP for the two-time defending champions. Michael Henderson, though, did his best to make up for Friske’s absence in the post, showing brute force on the inside and ridiculous range from beyond the arc, at one point squaring up to the basket from near half-court and drawing a swarm of defenders who figured he was about to shoot.

In round-robin play against Whitehorse on Thursday, the Chilkats upped their record to 2-0 for the night behind overwhelming numbers from Henderson and tournament organizer and 2014 MVP Stuart DeWitt, who combined for 53 points (27 and 26, respectively) and 13 treys (7 and 6).

DeWitt, officially taking the reins from 27-year tournament organizer Larry Sweet, said the event ran smoothly, “stayed on schedule and had really competitive teams.”

DeWitt, who also refereed other tournament games, drained threes in bunches, threaded passes through the arms of multiple opponents, and played lockdown defense.

Larry Sweet thanked DeWitt for his efforts to run the tournament, and said DeWitt’s juggling act as a player and ref “reminded me of me when I was younger.”

The Chilkats didn’t stuff the ballot box, either, as Harry Rietze was their only all-tournament honoree. Rietze, a first-teamer, has consistently been among the most underrated players at the tournament. If any player earns the description “solid,” it is Rietze, who is a force on the boards, gets timely put-back buckets, makes his free throws, sets countless screens, and can hit three-pointers at a consistent clip. Rietze, though, was sidelined due to injury for the Chilkats’ final game with Whitehorse.


The Chilkats and Merchants were the top two seeds heading into bracket play based on their round-robin records. The Chilkats then bested the Harbor and the Merchants defeated Whitehorse. That set up a Chilkats-Merchants Saturday afternoon match-up for the right to advance to Sunday’s championship game. Each offense was scorching, and the Merchants took a 120-103 victory.

In the losers’ bracket, Whitehorse held off Hoonah, 66-65, and then had to step right back on the court to face the Chilkats to reach the championship for a rematch with the Merchants. Whitehorse appeared exhausted at first, but recovered for an 86-65 win.

Whitehorse found enough energy on Sunday to keep the title game close. The Canadians were well-received at the competition, enduring a handful of good-natured “USA!” chants and the ever-increasing calls for McCulloch to “dunk it!” Late in their bracket game, the Chilkats relaxed on defense to allow McCulloch to waltz down the lane for a crowd-pleasing slam.

McCulloch, Chad Curlew and David Stehelin were first-team all-tournament selections for Whitehorse, and Charles Tung, who repeatedly cut to the basket for easy points, landed on the second team.

Stehelin, who had 19 points in the title game, said the Yukoners play on different teams in a recreational league. He noted McCulloch played professionally in Europe after a career at Eastern Washington. Stehelin said the Juneau duo of Heumann and Nelson was formidable. “We lost to them yesterday, so we had to play four games (on Saturday),” Stehelin said.

The event also inducted long-time Dick Hotch and Gold Medal Klukwan sponsor Katherine Hotch into the Hall of Fame. She was named “Best Fan” of this year’s tournament, as well. Another long-standing tournament supporter, Tim Wilson, was named Most Inspirational. He played for the Chilkat Warriors this year.

Youth free-throw shooting champions were Luke Davis and Brooklyn DeWitt, age 9-and-under; Jayden Hotch and Natalie Crager, age 10-11; and Mark Davis and Aireona Davis, age 12-13. Stuart DeWitt and Sam Clay were the men’s and women’s three-point shooting champions.

As is typical at Dick Hotch tournaments, aspiring basketball players like the 12-year-old, free-throw champion Mark Davis rushed the court between games for some shooting practice.

“My favorite part is watching the good players and the team I want to win and cheering for them,” Davis said. “I learned some stuff that I can work on from some of the people.”

He roots for Klukwan, and DeWitt is his favorite player. “He has really good dribbling skills and he shoots really well, too.”

 
 

Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2019