It didn't matter that the stands at Cheyenne Mountain held a scant few fans for a 5 p.m. tipoff on a Friday afternoon. The absence of cheerleaders or concession stands also didn't prevent Staff Sgt. Ron Bartley from leaving it all on the court.
It was the final result, however, that bothered the native of Norfolk, Va., now stationed at Fort Carson, even in a pool-play game on the first day of the Rocky Mountain State Games.
After his potential game-winning shot caromed off the rim to send the game into overtime, the all-Army guard watched Widefield graduate Gary Hampton sink a layup with 4 seconds left to lift Cash Out to a 58-57 win over the Sabers.
"It's way more than just a game," said Bartley, whose team is made up mainly of Army and Air Force veterans, with a sprinkling of civilian contractors. "To have a bunch of guys here on a Friday night, you have more than a love of the game. You want to compete, and you hate to lose."
Cash Out, a team comprised of mostly graduates of Widefield wearing purple Phoenix Suns uniforms, jumped out to a 27-12 lead in the first half, thanks to scoring from six players paired with a stretch of more than six minutes between Sabers baskets.
Bartley, who led all scorers with 21 points, made two free throws with 25.9 seconds left in overtime to give the Sabers a 57-56 lead. But as the final seconds ticked away in the two-minute extra period, Justin Wallace took advantage of a blown coverage on a switch, finding his former teammate wide open in the low blocks.
"I knew we had to switch and had an open opportunity," said Hampton, who graduated in 2009 and is attending Colorado State-Pueblo. "He had his eyes open and dished it to me. I had to finish. We gave away a nice lead, but we finished, though."
Wallace led Cash Out with 12 points, and Dom Howard had 11, while Dion Vaughn and David Ajavon added 10 each.
"We just wanted to come out and make a statement," Hampton said. "It brings back memories of year's past, and I miss it. But at the end of the day, we just wanted to have fun and represent our school well."
Bartley, a five-time all-Armed Forces starting point guard, had a different perspective after the game, drawing on several overseas tours, including Afghanistan and Iraq.
"When you're over there (Afghanistan) and your family is over here, you can't go to Burger King or McDonald's or even drive your own car," Bartley said.
"You're strictly on alert, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Even when you're playing basketball, and the gym is your outlet, you still hear bombs. It's good to be home, and to be able to go home after you play."