JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – The All-Air Force men’s basketball team advanced to the Armed Forces Tournament championship game at Chaparral Fitness Center the hard way.
The Air Force lost 95-85 to the U.S. Army for the second consecutive year, but coach Capt. Scott Stucky was pleased how his team advanced to the championship game.
Air Force overcame three straight losses and the loss of star player Capt. Michael Lyons to a broken hand.
The Air Force lost 95-85 to the U.S. Army for the second consecutive year, but coach Capt Scott Stucky was pleased how his team rebounded from three straight losses – including the loss of star player Capt. Michael Lyons to a broken hand in a loss to the U.S. Navy – to earn a spot in the final.
“Our guys did a good job of overcoming the initial shock of losing Lyons, and we had other players come forward to carry the scoring,” said Stucky, an education flight commander with Air Force ROTC Detachment 665 at the University of Cincinnati. “You can’t replace Lyons, but we did a dang good job.”
The tournament featured a double round-robin format, where teams played each other twice. The teams with the best record after six games advanced to the championship game. Air Force finished 3-3 in the round-robin.
Lyons’ prowess was evident early in the tournament in victories against the U.S. Navy and Army. In a 113-97 victory against Navy, he scored 28 points. In an 88-85 win over Army, he scored 30 points.
Even in a 77-65 loss to the U.S. Marine Corps, he led with 18 points despite playing in only one half. In a 103-98 loss to Navy, Lyons broke a bone between his middle and ring finger early in the first half while contesting a shot.
He was fouled, made a foul shot and finished with three points before exiting as the tournament’s leading scorer, averaging 19.8 points per game in four games.
“It was definitely frustrating not to be out there,” said Lyons, a project manager for the Air Force Satellite Control Network at Peterson AFB, Colorado, who played for the U.S. Air Force Academy and the Erie Bayhawks of the NBA’s Developmental League. “But I’m also a big believer in praying about things and not worrying about things I can’t control. I couldn’t change the injury, but I could change it going forward and having a positive effect on my teammates.”
Perhaps most impressively, Lyons was playing with a torn right labrum before he broke his hand. He will have shoulder surgery next month and anticipates he’ll be playing basketball in about six months.
Filling the void left by Lyons were 1st Lt. Justin Hammonds and Senior Airman Darian Donald.
Hammonds’ duties as an intelligence officer at March ARB, California, and as a high school basketball coach in Riverside, almost kept him from committing to play in the tournament. A call from Stucky, a former teammate at the Academy, convinced him to join the team. The move paid off as Hammonds was named to the Armed Forces Tournament team and will represent the Armed Forces at the SHAPE International Basketball Tournament in Belgium.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but it was a lot of fun,” said Hammonds, who averaged 16.9 points and 9.1 rebounds in his first time playing in the tournament. “It’s a great group of guys and great competition.”
Donald, playing in his second tournament, praised the veteran leadership of this year’s team.
“We fell short, but they led us,” said Donald, who averaged 14.9 points throughout the tournament.
In the championship game against Army, Air Force led midway through the first half, but Army’s depth was too much to overcome. Senior Airman Daveon Allen of the 99th Medical Group at Nellis AFB, Nevada, led Air Force with a game-high 24 points.
The men finished second for the second year in a row, a fact that motivates Stucky to regain the title for the first time since 2015.
“I would love to coach the team next year, depending on leadership and if they’ll have me back,” Stucky said.
Joining Hammonds and Donald on the Armed Forces team are Tech Sgt. Corey Rucker of F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming, and Airman 1st Class Charles Ieans of Barksdale AFB, Louisiana.
While third place might not have been the desired outcome for the women’s team, Senior Master Sgt. Tashon Taylor, Food and Beverage Superintendent for the Air Force Services Activity, was pleased with the team’s attitude and resiliency.
The Air Force finished third after beating the U.S. Marine Corps 60-48.
“Even though it’s not the gold medal, it’s still our gold medal,” said Taylor, in her first year coaching the All-Air Force women’s team after serving as an assistant last year. “Having that team camaraderie, having that ability to talk to these ladies every day, it helped us realize that no matter if it’s not the desired outcome, it is our outcome, and we’re going to make the best out of it.”
The Air Force lost the tournament’s first two games against the Navy (91-63) and Army (72-63), but bounced back with a resounding victory over the Marines (75-47) and avenged its loss to Navy (69-64).
“One thing I can say is that all of the ladies listened and were open to any changes,” Taylor said. “My assistant coach (Terrance Dunkley) and I studied Navy, and we studied everything about our game – the plusses and minuses, where we went wrong and what we could change up. We realized without hesitation our girls have what it takes to beat Navy. We switched up our defense, and we opened up our offense. That’s how we were able to win.”
Leading the way in the Navy victory were forwards Airman 1st Class Apiphany Woods of Moody AFB, Georgia, and Staff Sgt. Charmaine Clark of Robins AFB, Georgia. Woods finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Clark finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds.
Air Force’s loss to Army (70-49) on Nov. 5 knocked it into the consolation bracket, where it fell to the Marines on the final day of the round-robin format. The team’s resiliency was further tested when Woods suffered a lower left leg injury and didn’t play the rest of the tournament.
“I just wanted to go out there and work hard for my teammates,” said Woods, who played collegiately at Idaho State University. “I’m happy that I was a member of the team.”
Woods’ injury was reminiscent of Clark tearing her right Achilles’ tendon during last year’s tournament. Clark, playing in her second Armed Forces tournament, averaged 13.3 points and 10.4 rebounds and emerged as the team’s leader.
“Clark brings energy, motivation and experience,” Taylor said. “She’s a very experienced and knowledgeable player on the court, and her basketball IQ is tremendous.”
Clark also was playing with a heavy heart. Her father died in August and playing in this year’s Armed Forces tournament was more meaningful.
“To really represent the Air Force in the Armed Forces tournament means a lot, and I kept thinking about if my dad could be here,” said Clark, who played collegiately at the University of Miami.
Taylor stressed the four pillars of Comprehensive Airman Fitness and weaved in their importance during the tournament.
“We may be 12 individuals, but we are one Air Force team,” Taylor said. “It’s like the metaphor for CAF, the four legs of the chair: We continue to pray for each other and for our safety. We continue to keep each other in a social connectedness. We continue to mentally stimulate each other, and we continue to stay physically ready by conditioning.”
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