Joe Scott took a calculated risk in handing the keys to the Air Force basketball program to so many young players.
That group – including four freshmen who have averaged 21 minutes over the first two games – makes its debut at Clune Arena on Wednesday against Texas Southern.
So far, the returns have been promising. The Falcons (1-1) nearly came back from 15 points down in a 59-53 loss to South Dakota in Sioux Falls, S.D. in the opener, closing to within two points in the final minute. They then topped Tulsa 59-58 on the road Saturday, perhaps the team’s biggest nonconference road win since 2007.
Scott understands the risk of a team so heavily populated with freshmen is inconsistent play, which could lead to a long season for the home fans. The coach also understands that wouldn’t be a first.
“Historically, probably there’s been a lot of rough years at Clune, regardless of the roster,” Scott said.
Indeed, the Falcons have posted losing seasons in all but seven of the past 35 seasons. And one of those came under Scott as he led the team to a Mountain West regular-season title in 2003-04 and five more came in the years immediately following his initial departure, as his recruits made their way through the program.
Other than that, the only non-losing seasons since the 1978-79 seasons came in .500 seasons in 1988-89 and 2010-11 and with an 18-14 mark under in 2012-13.
Scott has already drawn a parallel between this year’s group of freshmen to his first freshman class with the Falcons that were seniors in 2003-04, and no one has earned the benefit of the doubt atop this program like he has.
“For me, what it’s about is sort of building this program and building it with guys who hopefully are the right guys,” he said. “The fans are then going to see those faces over and over again and really get to know them as players, hopefully get to know them as people and probably most importantly, get to know how competitive they are, how tough they are, how much fun they are to watch play because they play together, they share the ball.
“The upside is, whether it’s a year from now or two years from now, you’ve watched a team be built that way and you’re watching them play that way, and that’s when the years aren’t rough. More importantly, and I really feel strongly, that’s when fans really embrace the team. … Hopefully that’s what we’re going to build here the next couple years here as a group.”
Freshman point guard Ethan Taylor has played all but one minute in the first two games, averaging 10.5 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals. Freshman center Lucas Moerman has averaged 23.5 minutes, 7 points on 75% shooting, 6.5 rebounds and one block. Freshman guard Jake Heidbreder has started both games, averaging 5 points, and Jeffrey Mills has averaged 31 minutes off the bench. Called the perhaps the team’s best passer by Scott, Mills leads the team with five assists – including the dish to junior Camden Vander Zwaag for the game-winning 3-pointer with 23 seconds remaining at Tulsa.
Texas Southern (0-3), a member of the Southwest Athletic Conference, comes to Air Force off a 72-65 loss at Washington on Monday. They’ve also fallen 83-66 to No. 12 Oregon and 67-58 at St. Mary’s during a season-opening road trip. The Tigers have been led in scoring by Texas A&M transfer John Walker III, who has averaged 14.3 points.