Return of athletic Hammonds adds new dimension for Air Force basketball

January 5, 2013
photo - Air Force's Justin Hammonds passes during the first half  against UNLV on Feb. 25, 2012, in Las Vegas. Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE
Air Force's Justin Hammonds passes during the first half against UNLV on Feb. 25, 2012, in Las Vegas. Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE 

Justin Hammonds could do nothing but watch and envision how he could help the Air Force basketball team.

Now he can put those plans into motion.

The athletic 6-foot-6 sophomore forward sat the first semester after being declared academically ineligible. He then saw his return thwarted by a sprained ankle that kept him out of the game against Florida. The waiting allowed him to gain a bit of perspective.

“You see a lot more when you’re watching instead of playing,” the Texas native said. “Given that opportunity to see what we need, you catch more of the little things.”

Among the things he has noticed is a need for his precise skill set.

“It’s frustrating sometimes when I see our team come down and shoot 10 3s in a row,” Hammonds said. “When I get in, if I get an open 3 the last thing I’m doing is shooting. I’m either driving or trying to find someone else’s shot. So, it’s just good to have our balance of the great shooters we have and guys who want to get to the rim.”

Hammonds also brings length and quickness to the defense and has shown the ability to rebound.

Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich recognized Hammonds’ ability and inserted him into the starting lineup shortly after taking over for ousted coach Jeff Reynolds midway through last season. Hammonds responded with his best game as a freshman, scoring 17 points with six rebounds in a loss to TCU.

“He’s got a good, high basketball IQ,” Pilipovich said. “He just makes things happen on the floor.”

Any momentum built with four late starts was thwarted when Hammonds learned in August that he wasn’t eligible for the fall season.

After regaining eligibility in late December, Hammonds played five scoreless minutes against Cal-Riverside. He then scored nine points with four rebounds in 13 minutes in a Wednesday loss at Richmond.

Hammonds is far from a finished product. He’s skinny and “gets bumped around a little bit,” as Pilipovich put it. He can shoot from outside, but his more effective range is inside about 15 feet. But his return has brought a jolt of enthusiasm to the team after its break and as it prepares for a difficult run through the Mountain West Conference.

“I’ve been looking forward to Justin coming back, that’s one of my favorite guys on the team,” leading scorer Michael Lyons said. “He’s a real energy guy. I think when he comes in we can all feed off of his energy. He just brings a positive vibe to everything, and I think that’s going to be real good for all of us once he gets back into the flow of things.”

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