JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
In between practice drills at the Warhawk Fitness Center, the Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Warhawks varsity basketball team engages in friendly banter while exhibiting comradeship. Calvin Conliffe, a former Warhawks player and first-year head coach, believes the camaraderie will be essential in their chances to repeat as Joe Hall Memorial Basketball Champions.
The 39th annual double elimination tournament, which is named after Tech Sgt. Joe Hall, an accomplished Warhawks basketball player and coach who passed away from cancer in 1975, takes place Dec. 6 and 7 at the Warhawk and Chaparral Fitness Centers.
"Everybody wants to succeed," said Conliffe, who took over the head coaching position from Master Sgt. Kenneth Plummer after he moved to Robins Air Force Base, Ga. in the summer. "Everybody is happy and joking around with each other. These guys love playing together."
The camaraderie seems to be clicking so far.
The Warhawks, who compete in the Central U.S. Military Basketball Conference, are currently 5-3 in military and civilian basketball competition. The team consists of 15 returning players and five new players.
Because of his familiarity with most of the players, Conliffe said the transition from player to coach has been an easy process.
"I was sort of a coach or inside-the-huddle voice to my team during my playing time here at JBSA-Lackland," he said. "The returning players have helped me out a ton, by helping me teach the new guys on the roster the offensive and defensive sets that we've implemented."
One of the returning players Conliffe relies on for support and leadership is forward Wendell Thibeaux.
Thibeaux said he leads by example vocally and physically.
"I try to be a leader through my voice and actions," he said. "I don't ask any of my teammates to do anything I wouldn't do for the team, and they know that. I practice everyday as if I'm competing for a starting spot, and when younger guys see a starter practicing that hard it only makes them want to practice that much harder."
The competitiveness is derived from the head coach.
"You see coach on the sidelines in tight situations, and he wants to compete but unfortunately he can't," Thibeaux said. "Seeing him wanting us to win and showing intensity makes us feel that on the court."
Conliffe has plenty motivation to ensure the team is successful in his first year as Warhawks head coach. He remembered the team ceding a 19-point lead to the Fort Carson, Colo. varsity basketball team before being eliminated from the National U.S. Military Basketball Tournament in April, and reminds them of it almost every practice.
"The main thing I told the players (when the team first began practice) is to be ready and focused. My main philosophy is defense because last year, in my opinion, we gave up too many easy baskets.
"I want us to be more physical and to be able share the ball. I want the team to be well rounded, so we really don't have a leading scorer. Our leading score can be anybody on any given night."
Conliffe guaranteed JBSA-Lackland patrons that they will see the Warhawks' best effort in the Joe Hall Tournament.
"These guys have winning in their DNA," the coach said. "They love the bright lights. The team thrives in front of large crowds and under bright lights, and they are young and passionate.
"You are not going to get bored watching us play. We are going to hustle."
Sign up for the 39th Annual Joe Hall Memorial Basketball Tournament no later than Dec. 3. This tournament is open to the first 10 paid men's team, max 12 players per team. The tournament will be held Dec. 6. Call 671-2632 for more information.