LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas –
After two days of the eight-team Southwest Military Basketball Conference Championship, Lackland players celebrated their fifth consecutive regional title center court at the Chaparral Fitness Center April 4.
The celebration came moments after beating the Fort Sill, Okla., team 86-79 in the double-elimination tournament finale.
As the two top performing teams in the Southwest, both military teams earned a bid to play for a national title, starting Saturday at Lackland.
Victory scenes like these may have become commonplace to spectators at Lackland during the spring, but veteran Warhawks guard Lorenzo Smith offers some perspective.
One hand in the celebratory huddle, the other signaling the achievement, Smith just won "one for the thumb."
Playing for first-year head coach Curtis McGlown and with new team captain Timothy Anderson, Smith said rebuilding each year is a process that takes a lot of hard work.
"We've had five different teams each year," Smith said about playing for the five championship teams.
"Even though we weren't used to playing with each other, we all played hard," he said. "When in doubt, play hard."
Also new, sixth man AJ Govan played hard enough to earn the tournament's most valuable player award.
"That's what I'm supposed to do: come off the bench and give them a boost," he said.
Though surprised, the young player said he was "more excited about winning the championship."
He added, the bigger picture is "trying to win the (national) championship this weekend."
Lackland advanced to the finals by beating Fort Sill in the semifinals. Despite the loss, Fort Sill was still able to make the double-elimination tournament finals.
Fort Sill then forced a second finals game against Lackland, handing the defending champs its first loss, 95-93.
McGlown watched Fort Sill fight back from a game-high 23-point deficit in the first half to outscore the Warhawks 45-32 in the second.
"I don't call timeouts," he said. "We have to fight through that."
McGlown gave all the credit to his players for adjusting in the next one, saying, "I'm proud that we came back and won the championship.
Making adjustments on the court and playing through fatigue is part of the game, McGlown said afterward, something Lackland will have to do if they hope to win the National Military Athletic Association Basketball Championship. The players shared the coach's forward thinking.
"We want to win next weekend," shooting guard Michael Whitehead, a three-year Warhawk, said. "For it to be the first-ever national championship, we want to bring it to Lackland."