Updated: January 23, 2013 at 12:00 am
Todd Fletcher had departed the court during the final minutes of Air Force’s demolition of weary visitors from New Orleans.
Don’t worry. He was still working. He told freshman Cameron Michael where he should be standing. He shouted encouragement to Tre’ Coggins. He watched the game with the focused intensity of a coach.
The Falcons were on their way to a breezy 90-48 victory, but Fletcher never relaxed.
“It’s great being able to sit on the bench, and be a spectator,” Fletcher said, “but I was correcting everything they did wrong.”
Fletcher, a senior point guard, is enjoying Air Force’s revival. He also knows almost anything would seem a revival for the basketball program, which lost 36 of 46 Mountain West games over the past three seasons.
He remains hungry for more and knows his teammates, especially the younger ones, must stray as far from possible from satisfaction.
During Fletcher’s first three seasons, I had him pegged as a grump. When he talked after games, he looked as if he had just departed a funeral.
This was an accurate observation. He was not happy. Fletcher had spent his life winning games before he arrived at Air Force. During his freshman season, the Falcons stumbled to a 1-15 record in the MWC, and Fletcher wondered why he had chosen to play at the academy.
He seriously considered transferring. These thoughts continued through his sophomore season.
“This is a tough place,” Fletcher said.
He thought about friends, who were attending what he calls “normal” colleges. They were, in his words, “having fun” while he was marching and taking orders and, worst of all, losing basketball games.
His friendships with Michael Lyons and Mike Fletcher and Taylor Broekhuis, among others, ended his thoughts of departing. This quartet, all seniors, believed better times were ahead.
And those better times have arrived, at least for now. The Falcons are 11-6, which includes two wins in four MWC games and a dramatic overtime loss at Las Vegas.
This success has not produced a tidal wave of support. A loud, small crowd of 1,671 watched Fletcher and the Falcons dominate New Orleans, which had won a triple-overtime marathon Monday. The Privateers ran out of fuel after the first 10 minutes.
Still, Fletcher has noticed an increase in believers. He spent his first three seasons telling classmates he was the basketball team’s manager.
“And they believed me,” he said.
He now listens to supporters on campus who discuss the Falcons' victories, wish him luck and even talk about attending games.
Fletcher has played a crucial role in Air Force’s rise. He’s averaging 9.3 points while shooting 52.5 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range. He has 67 assists and only 20 turnovers. He collected 14 points and three assists in Wednesday’s rout.
He spent the final minutes enjoying the show, but the pain of the past always remains close.
Fletcher knows all about the perils found in the dank basement of college basketball, a place where losers dwell.
He’s been there.
He has no plans to return.