Kadena, Kubasaki set to go up against adults in MLK tourney
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa – Jasmine Rhodes is very familiar with the routine. After 13 games against high school teams, the senior guard and her Kadena Panthers now brace for some advanced basketball education, against adult teams in the Martin Luther King Invitational Tournament.
The Panthers, who finished third in the tournament last year and second the two years before that, take on three other women’s teams, including defending champion Her-ricanes. Kadena’s and Kubasaki’s boys are among the 12-team men’s field, including defending champion Shake & Bake.
“The adult teams, they’re stronger, they’re a little smarter with the basketball,” said Rhodes, who’s averaging 21.2 points for the Panthers, who enter the MLK 9-4 on the season.
Intent on playing in college in the States after graduation in June, Rhodes says the pace of MLK play mirrors that of what she might see at the next level. “They make me better, stronger, they help me work on my weaknesses and helps me prepare for ball in the States,” she said.
The MLK is one of just two military tournaments played in the Pacific that permit high school-aged players; the March Madness Invitational on Guam welcomes the island’s junior national team from time to time.
The tournament began in 1992 sponsored by the Okinawa Athletic Officials Association and was absorbed by Marine Corps Community Services in 1995. The Foster Field House director at the time began permitting high school teams to play and even waived their entry fee.
The MLK is played by NCAA rules, which permit more contact than National Federation of State High School Associations rules, and by extension makes the game more rough and physical. The worry is that high school-aged players might suffer more injuries as a result.
“We’d prefer to play high-school teams,” Kubasaki boys coach and athletics director Jon Fick said. “But we do get the benefit of playing bigger, faster and stronger teams. It’s humbling. You get that life lesson that everybody needs.”
For her part, Rhodes says she doesn’t worry about getting hurt. “I just want to play,” she said. “I’m hungry this season. I just want to be out on the court.”
“We hope to come out of this weekend a better team than we are today,” Fick said.
After two years of playing the MLK at Semper Fit Gym on Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, repairs to the MLK’s original home, the Foster Field House, are complete and the event will be played there. Action begins at 6 p.m. Friday, with final games slated for 11 a.m. Monday.