By Brian Dzenis
Warren JFK is inching close enough to a region title to the point where coach Mark Komlanc wants his team to start visualizing it.
“We talked to the kids [on Thursday] about visualizing the end of the game and having that opportunity for hearing that buzzer, getting on that ladder and cutting down the nets because it’s right within their grasp,” Komlanc said. “The bad thing is that the two teams want it just as badly.”
To win the Division IV, Region 13 title tonight at the Canton Fieldhouse, the Eagles will have to go through Lutheran East.
“From what I’ve heard after we knocked off [Cornerstone Christian], they’re the favorite to win state,” Eagles guard Justin Bofenkamp said. “I don’t want to get ahead of myself — I’m focused on the next round — but I don’t see why you can’t throw us in the discussion to beat them. We beat some really good teams in the past couple of rounds and while they’re really athletic, we have some athletes, too.”
JFK (20-7) and East had four common opponents this season: Ursuline, Cornerstone Christian, Western Reserve Academy and Malvern. The Eagles are 3-1 against those teams while the Falcons are 2-2 in the same stretch. JFK’s loss in that group was to WRA, 60-59, a team Lutheran East defeated 54-45.
The Falcons’ 17-9 record is more a reflection of their schedule — which features D-I opponents — than their performance. Three of the teams that beat East are playing for the chance to go to Columbus on Saturday. Garfield Heights and Lakewood St. Edward will meet at Cleveland State in a regional final and Villa-Angela St. Joseph is a regional finalist in Division III.
Komlanc likened Lutheran East to a bigger and more athletic McDonald, except the Falcons trade outside shooting prowess for getting into the paint on a regular basis. Lutheran East uses its defense to harass opponents and score in transition.
“Instead of taking away the 3-point line, we need to take away the paint. That’s where the game is going to be won,” Komlanc said.
Lutheran East coach Anthony Jones had a courtside seat at JFK’s 72-60 win against McDonald on Wednesday, so he’s well aware of the Eagles’ Anthony McQueen. The 6-foot-6 big dunked eight times that night.
“I’ve followed him for a while now. I saw his athleticism in a showcase a few years ago and it jumped at me,” Jones said. “He’s an athlete and if you keep a body on him — and it’s what I plan to do — I think we’ll make it tough for him.”
The body likely to match up with McQueen is Justin Motley, a big who Jones says has 10 scholarship offers from small D-I schools all the way down to junior college.
“He hasn’t played basketball that long, but he’s (6-foot-8) and can run and jump,” Jones said. “Coaches love that.”
College coaches also like Lutheran East seniors Jordan Burge and Maurico Tate. Jones thinks both players have a shot at being named Ohio’s D-IV player of the year next week.
Burge averages 18 points and six rebounds as the team’s “power guard.” He’s received interest from Youngstown State and Detroit Mercy.
Tate averages 16 points and seven assists. Guard Tyler Powell averages 13 points.
Bofenkamp was a member of JFK’s state-title winning football team this fall and that team wasn’t considered a favorite until the Eagles were practically on the podium. He sees the same thing in basketball.
“We haven’t got the respect we deserve quite yet. It was, ‘McDonald is the No. 1 team in the state. They lost one game all year.’ We had to go out and beat them,” Bofenkamp said. “Now that we’re the only local team left, I guess you have to give us attention. There’s no one else to talk about.”