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After focusing on academics, Justin Hammonds' return is welcomed by Air Force basketball team

November 13, 2013 Updated: November 14, 2013 at 9:53 am
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photo - Former Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds talks with Justin Hammonds in the second half of AFA's 68-54 win over Chicago State on Jan. 6, 2012 at Clune Arena. Mark Reis, The Gazette
Former Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds talks with Justin Hammonds in the second half of AFA's 68-54 win over Chicago State on Jan. 6, 2012 at Clune Arena. Mark Reis, The Gazette 

Justin Hammonds has rejoined the Air Force basketball team, and it was a move that was easy to see coming.

The junior, who started three games as a freshman, left the program this past summer when he decided to focus his efforts on academics. He had been ineligible for the first semester of his sophomore year and felt at the time that the stakes were too high to continue to juggle the demands of sports and academy life.

But saying that during the summer proved much more difficult than living it in the school year.

Hammonds continued to sit with his former basketball teammates at football games and he was one of the only students in Section 8 for a basketball scrimmage Nov. 3 against Regis. The itch was obviously there.

The following day he was in coach Dave Pilipovich's office, asking if a spot on the team was available.

The staff talked it over and the question was brought to the older players on the team.

"They decided to welcome him back to the team," Pilipovich said.

Hammonds practiced Tuesday and will likely dress for Thursday's home opener against Jackson State. The activation might seem a bit quick, but Pilipovich said the 6-foot-6 forward looked great in his first practice. Also, the Falcons are without four injured players - DeLovell Earls, Kamryn Williams, Kyle Broekhuis and Ethan Michael - and, as Pilipovich said, once Hammonds was welcomed back it was not on a partial or trial basis.

"He's back and he's part of the team," Pilipovich said. "He's got to work his way back up, but each minute he's out there he's working up."

Hammonds had a slow start to last season after sitting the first semester and he finished with per-game averages of 8.3 minutes, 2.8 points and 1.5 rebounds.

Pilipovich said Hammonds - who was not made available to media - made an instant contribution. It makes sense. With Williams out, Hammonds, with 163 career points, has scored more in his Air Force career than anyone else out there.

"It picked up practice yesterday considerably because he's very vocal on the floor and he's very competitive," Pilipovich said.

Hammonds had opted not to play in part to protect from falling behind academically and facing a situation where he would have to enlist. Those concerns are not gone, but Pilipovich said everything in that area is in line and this was not a decision taken lightly by anyone involved.

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