Traveling to a distant tournament can often be a unifying experience for a prep basketball team.
Fontana Miller took a long one
last week, journeying 1,900 miles to the four-team Capital City Classic in
The Rebels won the tourney, defeating the host team, Juneau Douglas, 71-53 in the title game before a packed house of 1,700. But the experience was about much more than winning for coach John Romagnoli and his 9-4 team.
"We do so much more than just basketball with our guys," Romagnoli said.
"We spend a lot of time talking and workshopping about their decisions and their lives - what kind of men they want to become. We also talked about why each individual is important to this team and what this team means to each individual."
The sight-seeing wasn't bad either.
The Rebels were on the Mendenhall Glacier. They saw bald eagles up close.
They also had a snowball fight after practice, which Romagnoli joked "was a first for a Miller team."
There was also a banquet and a dance for the teams in the tournament and for a girls' tourney being held simultaneously, giving the Rebels even more northern exposure.
They take their basketball seriously in the Great White North. Pro basketball star Carlos Boozer played at Juneau Douglas, which this season is the state's top-ranked team.
Although fans in the capital city of 30,000 love their team, they also took a liking to the Miller players. Some workers at the hotel where Miller stayed became so enamored of the Rebels that they went to watch them play. A waitress where they ate their meals bought them baseball caps.
The love affair waned when Miller took the court for the title game against Juneau Douglas.
"Their gym is half the size of ours, so it was packed wall to wall, including the balconies," Romagnoli said. "We brought only four fans, all parents, so it was an awesome experience for our kids.
"The fans there are appreciative of good basketball. They weren't nasty, but they wanted us to lose."
Miller led by only four points near the end of the third quarter, but hit a 3-pointer before the buzzer. A 28-point fourth quarter finished off Juneau Douglas.
Tournament Most Valuable Player Zach Von Pertz paced the Rebels with 12 points and 10 rebounds, Jonathan Jury added 15 points and Micheal Hearn tossed in 12.
The Rebels defeated crosstown