LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas –
The 2010-11 edition of the Lackland Warhawks is playing as well or better than previous years, as witnessed by their four opponents who suffered double-digit losses to the host during the Joe Hall basketball tournament Dec. 4 - 5.
Entering the tournament with an 0-2 Southwest Military Basketball Conference record, questions as to whether or not the talented, young roster could play as a team still surrounded Lackland.
Then came an undefeated tournament run, and lifting of the golden orb tournament trophy Dec. 5 at the Chaparral Fitness Center, which surely answered them.
The Warhawks won each game by at least 10 points.
"We came together as one," Warhawks coach Curtis McGlown said, championing the importance of team unity and chemistry.
He told the team,"If you give me 100 percent, I'll give 100 percent."
The crowning game: an 80-48 run-away win against the Army team from Fort Bliss, Texas.
One of 11 players to score, Warhawks veteran Michael Whitehead, led with 25 points.
His breakout performance was inspired by McGlown's advice to take the ball to the hoop.
"I was struggling the first four games (of the year)," Whitehead said. "It all started with driving the lane."
After an early layup, shots started to fall: a couple threes, a bank shot, a reverse lay up, a runner in the lane falling down. By halftime, the swingman had 20 points.
He was happy to complement Warhawks captain Timothy Anderson's 16 points.
Despite being the first challenge for numerous Warhawk rookies, Whitehead said he wasn't surprised by the outcome.
"In practice, we scrimmage all the time," he said. "We have a good team."
McGlown said the team also achieved a measure of redemption for two losses during a road trip to Fort Bliss three weeks ago, traveling with a limited roster.
McGlown said he told the Army they would see the real Warhawks in the tournament.
Facing the team again in the finals, the soon-to-be tournament champs proved what home court and a crowded bench can do.
Playing an aggressive, press-heavy defense, the Warhawks jumped out to a 17-3 lead built on turnovers and fresh legs in the first half.
One minute, 42 seconds before halftime, Whitehead drove the baseline against his opponent and layed in a bucket for a 20-point lead.
Exemplifying the winning coach's call for unity - the Warhawks executed a flawless play for the last shot of the half, holding the ball, passing it around the perimeter then finding a man slashing under the basket.
In the second half, the bench - a key asset throughout the tournament - continued to cash in turnovers, eventually amassing the game's largest point spread by the final score.
"Guys came off the bench," Anderson said after the first-round win over Goodfellow. "There wasn't a let down."
Returning to the lineup, shooting guard Dwight Taylor didn't miss a beat either, hitting the hardwood as a Warhawk for the first time since a deployment last year.
Taylor (18.7 points per game) was the tournament MVP, Anderson (17.5 ppg) was named the top offensive player and Fort Bliss's Kevin Clark earned the best defensive player award.
The tournament is named for Joe Hall - a star Lackland player and coach in the '60s and '70s - who passed away from cancer.
His wife, Mable, and daughter, Sharri, watched Lackland play in the 35th title game.
"We're so pleased to see this tournament is still going," Sharri said. "It's been going on almost as long as (Joe) was alive. It's such an honor."
They also enjoyed seeing Lackland win. The Warhawks beat Dyess AFB in the quarterfinals, and the Army team from Fort Sill, Okla., in the semifinals en route to its third Joe Hall trophy in six years.