The future of the Air Force men's basketball program is slowly creeping its way into the present.
Sophomores DeLovell Earls, Justin Hammonds and Max Yon as well as freshmen Tre’ Coggins and Cameron Michael are contributing in more and more spots, but when the stakes have been highest the team has continued to give the bulk of its minutes to its five seniors.
Balancing that time is a constant point of concentration for coach Dave Pilipovich.
“We talk about building a program and building a culture and not only now or for the next game but for years coming up,” Pilipovich said. “Those players won’t be here, those five (seniors). So we have to get experience with those other guys, and we’re very confident with them coming in.”
Air Force’s top five leaders in minutes are its seniors – Taylor Broekhuis, Mike Fitzgerald, Todd Fletcher, Kyle Green and Michael Lyons. It makes sense. Broekhuis, at 6-foot-10, is the team’s only established big man. Fitzgerald has been on a scoring spurt with 52 points in his past two games. Fletcher ranks sixth in program history in assists and leads the Mountain West in assist-to-turnover ratio. Lyons is the team’s leading scorer.
The only member of that group thus far to lose his starting spot is Green, who was supplanted by Earls. But the move hasn’t meant much. In five games since that change, Green has played 87 minutes compared to 69 for Earls.
For a coach with superstitions that run deep – same socks, same ties, same seat on the bus, four cough drops each game – it’s understandable that Pilipovich wouldn’t make any wholesale changes in such a crucial point of the season. After all, this team was a late shot or stop away from winning at UNLV to go 2-0 in the Mountain West.
However, the fact remains that since late November the Falcons have played six quality opponents (Colorado, Wichita State, Florida, Richmond, Nevada and UNLV) and are 1-5 in those games.
At some point the underclassmen might get a chance to change those fortunes.
“The future looks very bright for us,” said Coggins, who played 15 minutes at UNLV when Fletcher was in foul trouble. “There’s definitely going to be a lot of changes just because of the style of players that we have. I’m just looking forward to see what happens with that.”
Coggins was a big-time scorer in high school, putting up 43 points in a California playoff game. Earls and Hammonds possess the kind of get-to-the rim quickness and length that Air Force has routinely lacked.
“We’re all real athletic, quick guys,” said Earls, who envisions a day when Air Force’s offense will feature more running. “I think that would play to our strength a little bit.”
Don’t expect anything to change immediately, particularly with a trip to Colorado State and its 22-game home winning streak Wednesday.
Also, don’t expect these two factions to develop any animosity as they battle for time on the court.
“It’s interesting to see during practices,” Earls said. “It’s mostly upperclassmen and underclassmen for the most part. It’s fun. The older guys try to give us their input.”
At some point – even if it's not until the season is finished – those older guys will give a lot more than input. They’ll hand over the program.