Air Force's basketball season may come down to one simple ingredient.
"Ice," point guard Tre' Coggins said. "Just ice."
It will be that ice, applied regularly to the sophomore, that the Falcons are hoping keeps him fresh during what promises to be a marathon of a season. The sudden on-court leader ventures into the season without the senior safety net in front of him that he had last year and without a backup in sight.
Coach Dave Pilipovich said he'd like to limit Coggins to 30 to 32 minutes, but admitted that achieving that will be easier said than done. Even playing in an exhibition Sunday where nothing was on the line, Pilipovich left Coggins on the floor for 38 minutes as his competitive instincts wouldn't allow him to remove him from the game.
"We have some guys who can play more and we have to figure it out," Pilipovich said. "We need him. If he's healthy we're OK."
The Falcons will feature one of the nation's most inexperienced teams after losing the top six scorers from last season's team. In Friday's season opener against Army in the All-Military Classic no player who started last year will be in the lineup, and the only one with any career starts - Kamryn Williams, who started 14 as a freshman two years ago - missed most of the past two weeks of practice with a hamstring injury. Williams will likely play this weekend, but there are slim odds that he'll play regular minutes.
The lone returning starter is DeLovell Earls, but the junior hasn't practiced this season as he recovers from a stress fracture in his tibia and may not see the floor until January.
The injuries aside, the inexperience was long expected and is the reason Air Force has brought in a freshman class that runs eight deep - many of whom will see regular time immediately.
What the class doesn't have is a true point guard, leaving Coggins on an island as he tries to replicate the ball control of departed senior Todd Fletcher (whose 117 assists and 39 turnovers formed one of the best ratios in the nation), while perhaps picking up some of the scoring load that had been handled by Michael Lyons.
Coggins gave a hint of that scoring in the exhibition loss to Regis, as he scored 20 points.
"I had the great opportunity just to kind of sit back and see Todd do work and how he handled his teammates, how he led on the court and all that," Coggins said. "So it was definitely a steep learning curve for me last year. Now that I'm kind of taking over on the court, it's definitely a new experience. It's enjoyable just being able to look at my teammates and know they're all looking at me to see what happens next."
The difference between Fletcher last year and Coggins this year is that Fletcher had Coggins to spell him for about 10 minutes per game. The Falcons are still working on a backup this year. Freshman Zach Kocur is the likely option, but he's a more natural No. 2 guard. Junior Max Yon, a guard/forward combo, has indicated he can play the spot. But that's about it in terms of options.
"We'll have to rest him a little bit," Pilipovich said. "His shoulder is a still a little tender (from an injury last year). We've to monitor that. Our trainer does a good job."
The trainer's main job? Icing Coggins. Air Force just better hope the freezer keeps working.