Air Force men's basketball seniors seek a happy exit

DAVID RAMSEY Updated: October 10, 2012 at 12:00 am • Published: October 10, 2012

Air Force’s men's basketball team returns four senior starters.

Is that good news?

Michael Lyons, Taylor Broekhuis, Mike Fitzgerald and Todd Fletcher have won only 10 Mountain West Conference games while losing 36. They’ve lost to crosstown rival Colorado College. They’ve played in Clune Arena on many nights when it was 75 percent empty. They helped hasten the dismissal of coach Jeff Reynolds.

This is, as first-year coach Dave Pilipovich says, the quartet’s “last go-around.”

“We expect something from ourselves,” Fletcher said. “It’s about time, I think.”

Air Force begins practice Friday as a prelude to a season that starts Nov. 10 in the All-Military Classic at The Citadel.

The Falcons finished 3-11 in the Mountain West last season and lost 12 of their final 14 games. It was a dreary season, full of turmoil.

Still, hope was the theme in Tuesday’s introductory press conference. Pilipovich wants his team to become “the toughest” in the MWC. He wants Clune to again frighten opponents. He wants better rebounding and defending.

And he has high expectations for his embattled seniors.

“They’re great people,” Pilipovich said. “They’re great young men. They’re just great men. They know how we want to play. They’re hungry.

“They want it so bad because it’s their last year. They know the things that we’ve been through, so they know the things we need to do and maybe the things we don’t need to do.”

Fitzgerald realizes there are plenty of doubters. The Falcons have not recorded a winning conference record since 2006-2007.

What does he want to prove?

“That we’re winners,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

Pilipovich has crafted a schedule that will challenge his team before MWC play begins. The Falcons will travel to Colorado, Florida and Richmond, and Wichita State will play at Clune. The games, Pilipovich said, will prepare the Falcons for the stronger teams in the MWC.

The pieces are there for a revival. Air Force returns 10 of its 11 leading scorers from last season, including top scorer Lyons.

Lyons averaged 15.6 points last season and dropped a career-high 31 points on Colorado.

He looks forward to playing an entire season for Pilipovich.

“It’s a less-complicated offense,” Lyons said. “It lets us go out and play instead of worrying about so many other things.”

NO GAMES ON CARRIER

Air Force was tentatively scheduled to play games in the All-Military Classic on the USS Yorktown, an aircraft carrier, but officials at The Citadel, which is playing host to the Classic, were unable to secure a contract.

“It boils down to this: They couldn’t reach an agreement on the price,” said Jon Cole, a representative of The Citadel’s sports information department.

Twitter: @davidramz

Facebook: davidramsey13

MEET THE TEAMS

Air Force’s basketball teams will play host to the Falcon Basketball Tipoff Fest at Clune Arena Saturday at 1 p.m. The event will feature dance-off and team skits along with the opportunity for fans to meet players and coaches.

Doors open at 12:30. The event is free.

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