By Tim Hipps, IMCOM Public AffairsNovember 16, 2012
SAN ANTONIO (Nov. 16, 2012) -- The All-Army team overcame a lot of adversity, but finished third in the 2012 Armed Forces Men's Basketball Championships Nov. 5-11, at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.
All-Air Force (6-1) took the gold with a 78-76 victory over All-Marine Corps (3-4) in the championship game. All-Army (3-4) prevailed 77-64 over All-Navy (2-5) in the consolation tilt.
The tournament format was double round robin, with teams with the two best records meeting in a winner-take-all championship game and teams with the lesser marks playing for third place.
First Lt. Cleveland Richard of Fort Lee, Va., represented the Army on the All-Tournament Team and the U.S. All-Armed Forces team that will compete from Nov. 28 to Dec. 3 in the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, or SHAPE, Tournament in Mons, Belgium.
"I think Cleveland was probably the best overall player here," All-Army coach Maj. David Smith said of Richard, who averaged 16.3 points and 6.4 rebounds in the tourney. "He scores in bunches. He outruns everybody. He can guard every position on the floor. One night I played him 39 minutes and 48 seconds and he got mad he sat out those 12. And he runs as hard in the 39th minute as he does in the first. It's amazing to me why that kid is not in talks of playing in the NBA."
Richard was joined on the All-Tournament Team by Air Force Capt. Nicholas Welch of Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif., Air Force Staff Sgt. Jammar Major of Hurlburt Field, Fla., Navy Seaman Chris Linton of TISCOM in Alexandria, Va., and Marine Corps Sgt. Christopher Harris of U.S. Marine Corps Barracks, Washington, D.C.
Three more Soldiers were selected for the All-Armed Forces squad: Staff Sgt. Terry Daniels of Fort Meade, Md.; 1st Lt. Marcus Nelson and Pvt. Class David Turner, both of Fort Gordon, Ga.
The All-Army team dealt with several setbacks before arriving in Texas. Even before training camp began, they lost an invitee when 1st Lt. Tyrell Thompson, 23, died of heart failure while playing basketball at Fort Eustis, Va.
"This tournament meant a little bit more because my best friend was supposed to come and he was looking forward to it and he ended up passing away," said Cleveland, who roomed for six years with Thompson at the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., and at Fort Lee, Va. "Every day, I just made sure I was giving my all for him."
Then center Spc. Taylor Pratt of Fort Riley, Kan., went down against Millersville University with an elbow injury that severely limited his effectiveness during the Armed Forces tournament.
"He is probably the best center I've seen in the military," Smith said. "He was averaging 24 points and 15 rebounds and leading us in every game. He played at Montana State and he is phenomenal. He was our finisher. The team, knowing that their best player was out, they tried to respond to that but they didn't know how -- we were tough but we just couldn't adjust to not having him."
Adding insult to death and injury, Hurricane Sandy blew through Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa., site of All-Army basketball trial camp, sending the Soldiers' preparation back a few more days.
"It was the best camp I ever had," Smith said. "Guys were focused. We had good games. We had some pro teams come in; had some good college games. Then all of a sudden Sandy hit us right in the mouth. We went three days with no water, no electricity, no lights, nothing. It got down to 40 at night, so we were sleeping in our rooms bundled up like we were out in the field.
"The roof of the barracks the players were staying in blew off, so they had to move to another building," Smith explained. "Then we couldn't practice -- didn't even see a court for three days. We actually moved out to Carlisle Barracks and had a place to practice, so we regrouped quickly. But it was an experience, that's for sure."
The Soldiers were in position to defeat the six-time defending champion Airmen in the opening night of the Armed Forces tournament, but let them off the hook. Sgt. Montavious Waters gave All-Army a 45-36 halftime lead with a buzzer-beating layup.
With the score tied at 86, Welch's baseline jumper with 1.5 seconds remaining lifted All-Air Force to an 88-86 victory. Welch made 9 of 11 shots, including 3 of 3 from 3-point range, to lead the Airmen with 21 points. Welch, who was named 2004 Mountain West Conference Co-Player of the Year as a sophomore at the Air Force Academy, also grabbed nine rebounds.
Waters, from Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., led All-Army with 23 points on 8-for-10 shooting, including 4 of 4 from behind the arc. Richard had 19 points, five assists and four steals. Staff Sgt. Ronald Bartley (13) of Fort Carson, Colo., and Daniels (11) also scored in double figures.
On Tuesday night, Sgt. David Lee of Fort Benning, Ga., led All-Army with 21 points in a 97-77 victory over All-Navy. Richard and Waters each scored 16 points, and Daniels added 11 points and 16 rebounds.
On Wednesday, the Soldiers faltered down the stretch of an 89-88 loss to All-Marine Corps. Daniels' tip-in gave All-Army an 86-81 lead with 3:06 left, but the Marines rallied for an 89-88 victory on a layup by Sgt. Brandon Mitchell with .3 seconds remaining off an inbounds play. The Soldiers knew then that their shot at gold was greatly diminished.
"Finishing games goes hand-in-hand with approaching every possession," Nelson said. "That was a case of situational awareness. Sometimes that's just the way the game goes, and they got the lucky bounce that time."
"We missed a couple of rebounds at crucial times and missed a couple of shots," Richard added. "I think some of it was us trying to get used to things changing with Taylor Pratt being out. He's pretty reliable. He makes a world of difference."
Cleveland again led All-Army with 20 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists. Nelson added 11 points, six rebounds and six assists. Harris led the Marines with 32 points and five boards. Cpl. Richard Pollock of Okinawa, Japan, added 18 points and seven rebounds.
"Even though those two plays were just a total lost-in-the-sauce type thing, they hurt us inside," Bartley said of the game-ending miscues in All-Army's first two losses. "They were our games and we gave it to them. When we lost those two, then it started going downhill."
On Thursday, Airman 1st Class Jason Stromvall of Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., had 16 points to lead All-Air Force to a 73-67 victory over All-Army. Staff Sgt. Jammar Major of Hurlburt Field, Fla., added 10 points, and Welch had nine points and 10 rebounds for the Airmen. Only Richard, with 11 points, scored in double figures for All-Army.
On Friday, All-Army fell 77-71 to All-Navy and was mathematically eliminated from reaching the gold-medal game.
"I do remember a common denominator of us allowing teams to get offensive rebounds, especially at crucial times," Richard explained All-Army's downfall. "Most of the times when teams get extra chances to score, they hit 3s, and that's a backbreaker. … We just didn't execute enough to be in the championship game."
On Saturday, All-Army prevailed 84-78 over All-Marine Corps, which rested several starters for Sunday's title tilt. Cleveland again led the way with 15 points. Pratt, with his elbow a tad recovered, added 14 points on 7-for-9 shooting.
The tourney was a grueling test of basketball in which every team played seven games in as many days.
"There is nowhere else in basketball like this where you only have a couple weeks to cut from 22 to 12 players, jell as a team, be fundamentally sound defensively and offensively, and oh, by the way, be peaking at the right time," Smith said.