Air Force enters 2008/2009 Basketball

It's time for tipoff for the 2008-2009 basketball season for the Air Force Falcons. The Falcons, coming off a 16-14 season in 2007-2008, will face many challenges in a strong Mountain West Conference (MWC) this year while introducing their fans to many new faces on the team.

Thanks to ltcpilot, an extreme AFA Falcon fan for this enlightening  look into 08/09 AFA basketball.  Falcon Mike, AFAFalcons.com.

    


Air Force has gained recognition nationally in the past 7 years as it came from a school known only for its triple offense football team to a school whose basketball team has gone to the NCAA tourney twice and the NIT semi-finals once in the last 5 years.  The change began in 2000 when Coach Joe Scott was hired and brought the Princeton offense to the Academy.  The deliberate style of play and tenacious defense, has enabled Air Force to compete with its peers during both pre-season out of conference play and in the MWC.  Joe Scott left the Academy following the 2003-2004 season.  Chris Mooney and Jeff Bzdelik followed Coach Scott to coach the Falcons.  Possibly the most fortunate event that happened during this time was that Jeff Reynolds was brought in as an assistant, paving the way for him to become the current Air Force head coach.  Coach Reynolds, in his second year, has brought back needed continuity for the program after the coaching shuffle during the previous 5 years.  His entire coaching staff has returned as he prepares for the upcoming 2008-2009 season.

 

     To see how the Falcons will do this year, you have to first look at the recent history of the team.  Last year, which was Coach Reynolds first season as head coach, he inherited a team devoid of experience.  The lone returning starter was Tim Anderson.  Only two other players from the 2006-2007 team had any meaningful playing time, and that was minimal. During that season forwards Andrew Henke averaged 13.7 min/game and Anwar Johnson averaged 7.2 min/game. All other returners averaged less than 5 min/game.  Coach Reynolds and his staff took this inexperienced team coupled with 4 seniors, and freshman Evan Washington (who started at guard), and surprised many by going 8-8 in the MWC and having a winning season.

 

     Fast forward to this year and you will see Coach Reynolds in his second season as head coach and a follow-on to last year with this being another re-building year.  The team once again will be young, but more experienced with its returning players. Having Henke, Holland, Johnson and Washington return, will enable the team to have a strong foundation to build upon.  Having little to no experience back last year, resulted in a difficult time for the team to go deep into the bench.  Having four returning starters this year should enable younger players to mature under game conditions thereby allowing the team to go deeper into the bench.  This will benefit us this year and help build more experience for the 2009-2010 season.

 

     Three actual starters return from last year (Anwar Johnson, Sr G/F, Matt Holland, Sr. F and Evan Washington, So, G) and Air Force's 6th Man from last season, Andrew Henke, Sr, F, who averaged starter minutes while coming off the bench.  This core group will provide the leadership needed for the young Falcons which currently have seven freshmen on the roster.  Matt Holland will play the forward position or as a ‘small' big if desired.  Andrew Henke will be the team's vocal leader this year and proved to be a threat last season both from the outside with the ‘three' and driving the baseline. His defense improved immensely last year and he will be a cornerstone for the Falcons.  Anwar Johnson has the ability to both handle the ball and to get to the rim.  His efforts to improve his outside shooting during the off-season may truly benefit the team this year.  Directing all this from the top will be returning starter Evan Washington.  While only a sophomore, the experience he gained playing at the Prep School and being a starter last season, will allow him to accept the leadership role at the point vacated by Tim Anderson.  Good ball handling and defense by Evan will set the tempo for the Falcons.

 

     The center position has been interesting over the years as the Falcons transitioned to the Princeton offense, or to its current hybrid form we like to call the ‘Air Force Offense'.  Generally the position has been filled by what many consider to be a power forward versus a true big man.  In the past Nick Welch or Keith Marin filled this position.  Times may be changing in the future.  Currently juniors Grant Parker 6'8" and Mike McClain 6'8" are battling for the starting spot.  But in the wings two freshmen (that are still growing:  Trevor Noonan 6'9" and Sammy Schafer 6'10") will press for playing time.  Noonan brings a good outside shot and great court vision to the position.  Schafer has excellent ball handling skills for a big man and should work well within the offense.

     The forward position looks to be strong with Henke, Holland and Johnson all returning with experience in the system.  Sophomores Derek Brooks, Tom Fow and Philip Brown providing solid backup.  Freshman Taylor Stewart 6'5", Kentucky, is exhibiting solid potential and looks to get playing time.  

 

     The guard position is getting the closest look for the Falcons.  While juniors Avery Merrieux and Saj El-Amin are familiar with the system, media reports that freshman Jon Atkins, 6'3 from the prep school, is a top contender for playing time up top.  His classmate Brandon Provost 6'3", Houston, may be one of the most athletic players on the team and could get floor time early in the season.  Anwar Johnson has the ability to swing from forward to guard and may be the Falcon's best option to run the offense along side Washington until a younger player steps up into and accepts a stronger role. 

 

     While the Falcons have a mix of old and new players, they temper their outlook of the 2008-2009 season when looking at the MWC.  Similar to the MWC this year in football, this may be one of the strongest seasons the MWC puts on the hardwood in recent years.  As a conference, the MWC returns 38 of last year's 45 starters.  Both San Diego State and Utah return all five starters.  BYU has MWC player of the year Lee CummardWyoming's Brandon Ewing has been mentioned in several pre-season lists.  Even TCU, while picked below AF in pre-season media polls, returns 4 starters and their top 3 bench scorers from last season.  Expectations for the Mountain West Conference to excel this year on the court have never been higher.  Air Force feels they can compete with the field but must have three things happen to ensure success.  First and foremost, the four returners must provide the necessary leadership to not only run the intricate offense and match-up zone defense effectively, but to mentor the youngsters as they develop their own skill sets. Secondly, the young freshmen on the team must contribute immediately, as Evan Washington was able to do last season.  The quickness of their maturity may be the defining element of a winning season.  Lastly, playing well and winning at home in Clune Arena is a must.  The support of local fans and the Cadet Wing's Section 8 are a must.  With the talent throughout the MWC this year at such a high level, holding serve and winning on your home court will be imperative.  I do not believe that the winner of the MWC will be only a two-loss team.  Parity and home wins will result in the regular season champion having 3 or 4 loses.  Air Force has the ability to be ‘in the mix' and be a spoiler throughout the 2008-2009 season. 

 

     Young and enthusiastic, this Falcon basketball team is ready to begin the 2008-2009 season.  Air Force's opening tip-off of the year is on 14 November at the Academy against Western State.  Grab your family and you friends, put on your favorite blue t-shirt or hoody, and head out to watch your Air Force Basketball team!  Go Falcons!                   


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