Warhawk Damon Turner closes out an open lane to the basket Dec. 12 during Lackland's first of four games played in the Joe Hall Tournament. (U.S. Air Force photo/Robbin Cresswell)
LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas —
In the spirit of giving, it has become tradition in the last four Joe Hall basketball tournaments for the Lackland Warhawks and the Air Force Academy Preparatory School Huskies to exchange the championship trophy.
The Warhawks won in 2005 and 2007, and the Huskies took the trophy back to Colorado in 2006 and 2008.
It should have been the host's turn.
However, the Huskies played Grinch in the tournament's 33rd rendition, outlasting nine other teams to steal the trophy from Warhawk 'ville for a second straight year.
Another departure from previous years, the Warhawks failed to make the finals, exiting the tournament in a semifinal loss to Fort Sill, Okla., 69-60, Sunday at the Chaparral Fitness Center.
"That was a big win," Fort Sill coach Larry Anderson said. "We haven't beaten Lackland in two years."
For their part, the Huskies went undefeated in four games against Randolph, Fort Sill and the Warhawks, before winning the championship against Fort Sill, 77-52, in double-elimination play.
Winning coach Bob Cavera said the tournament exposes the potential Air Force Falcons ballers to "the fact that in the future they can continue to play basketball throughout their Air Force career" while gaining valuable experience.
Huskies guard Wade Collie's 23-point performance in the finale earned him the tournament's most valuable player award.
"Being able to travel to San Antonio is a blessing," the MVP said about the team's trip which included a visit to the River Walk, a Spurs game and a few days off from school. "But if we were to lose, it would have made this trip miserable."
Fort Sill's Jeff Anderson dropped 12 in the final while earning the offensive player of the tournament award.
In addition to sporting a deft hand on defense, fleet feet on fastbreaks and a marksman eye from the three-point arc, Collie's buzzer-beating, halfcourt shot before halftime capped a 17-6 Huskie run to send his team into the locker room with their first lead, 36-35.
Before the run though, Fort Sill stormed out to a 29-16 lead in the first 12 minutes, looking as if they weren't playing their fourth game of the day. In contrast, the Huskies started flat despite playing one less game.
"We beat them last time and we came out nonchalant," Collie said. "They felt they should have beaten us last time, so they came out with more energy. Coach called a time out and told us to pick it up."
Hounding ballhandlers, pressuring inbound passes, intercepting passing lanes, the Huskies got the spark they needed on defense.
Turnovers jumpstarted their sputtering offense as it soon took flight on fastbreaks and three-point bombs from the perimeter.
Playing an up-tempo offense, the Huskies' ball movement on offense eventually drained Fort Sill's kinetic energy and confidence. Stabs at steals replaced extra steps on defense, and between whistles, hands on hips were accompanied by stares.
The 2009 Joe Hall champions were just as fired up in the second half, pushing its one-point advantage to a game-high 25-points with 1:02 remaining in the game.
The Warhawks began on a high note with 54-point and 18-point wins over Goodfellow AFB and Fort Sam Houston on Saturday to start the tournament. Then, the short-handed team surrendered to the Huskies, 62-36, before taking their final loss against Fort Sill in the semis.
Guard Eli Lozano had 14 and 12 points in the final games in his return to the team. Laron Smith earned the most valuable defensive player award while scoring 11.5 points a game in the tournament.
Warhawks coach Curtis McGlown said he takes responsibility for what he considers to be a "disappointment."
"It's a tournament, you never know who is going to show up and play hard," he said. "Just like the NCAA there's always a Cinderella out there. The last two games today, we couldn't buy a basket."
But sometimes losing is a learning experience, or as McGlown frames the dialectic, "the same thing that makes you laugh, will make you cry.
"When you lose it, shows what you didn't work on. We'll see Fort Sill again."