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Air Force Deposes Marines 71-59 for Basketball Crown

By 2nd Lt. Celeste Rodriguez
Special to American Forces Press Service

CHARLESTON AIR FORCE BASE, S.C., Nov. 29, 2000 – DoD's top basketball talent exchanged combat boots for court shoes in Starlifter Arena here as the Air Force unseated the defending champion Marines 71-59 in the 2000 Armed Forces Basketball Tournament.

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Marine Corps Center Jelani Nix (left) pushes his way past Army defender Courtney Joseph. Photo by Staff Sgt. Larry Simmons, USAF.

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Charleston was host to the service all-stars in the fast-paced Nov. 15-17 tournament.

Emerging victorious with a 5-1 record, Air Force head coach Don Fellers led an experienced team with impressive talent spread across the entire roster. Co-captain Tech. Sgt. Edward Simpson of Keesler AFB, Miss., personified the team’s patient, calculating demeanor and led the team with a six-game total of 81 points and 40 rebounds. Meanwhile, Tech. Sgt. Vernon Turnbull of Robins AFB, Ga., and Staff Sgt. Mark Watley of Beale AFB, Calif., turned more than a few heads, and 1st Lt. Jarmica Reese of Los Angeles AFB, Calif., and Capt. Otis Jones of Pope AFB, N.C., took advantage of open defenses with quick drives and assists.

As defending champions, the Marines made their presence known early with a hearty cheering section and a fast lead by defeating both Army and Navy on the first day of competition. Marine head coach James Watts agreed the team’s breadth of experience, along with a brick wall defense and a tricky backdoor offense, brought them to the final game.

That Marine experience came from the likes of Gunnery Sgt. Ronnie Gipson of Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Ga., playing in his 14th and last interservice championship. Large presence from team captains Sgt. Tyrone Spears of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C., and Sgt. Billy Shanks, a sergeant of MCAS Cherry Point, N.C., kept games dramatically close, especially in a difficult 64-63 loss to Army in Game 9.

The Army team arrived with a mission not only to seek gold but to regain respect befitting a squad that took silver in 1997 and tournament gold in 1998 -- before plunging 0-6 to the cellar last year. The team had a tough start, losing their first three games. The soldiers redeemed themselves in their fourth match, however, by handing the undefeated Air Force a surprise 68-58 loss.

With momentum from that crucial victory, Army played out with a three-game win streak, squeaking past the Marines and then drubbing Navy, 76-64. The Army and Marines finished tied at 3-3, but the Marines took second place on the strength of a six-point scoring lead in their two games against the soldiers.

Army head coach Alvin Lundy sent his players from the huddle to the court proclaiming that “hard work” distinguished them as the Army’s best. He and his coaching staff had skimmed the cream from a crop of more than 100 training camp hopefuls.

Many tournament veterans, such as Petty Officer 2nd class Jeffrey Jones of Naval Air Station Atlanta, helped bridge experience gaps on teams mixed with new faces. Jones, on his eighth visit to the tournament court, was key to Navy’s signature aggressive defense and clean ball control. His frequent quick breakaways helped make him the tournament’s leader in assists, averaging 4.2 per game, and No. 2 in steals.

Navy’s 1-5 finish doesn't do justice to the team’s impressive play. Navy's consistent drives, solid screens and tight “hands up” defense forced opponents to earn every point. On the offense, Jones and Seaman Marcellus Anderson of Naval Training Center Great Lakes, Ill., pushed defenders to the limit. Once within striking distance, the two made crucial shots and rebounds look easy.

The sailors' match-ups against Army were especially intense.

Following Air Force’s final win over the Marines, the tournament concluded with a massive circle of handshakes and congratulations from all four services blurring the teams into one mass of red, gold, black and blue.

“Everyone from the coaches to the players to the refs made the tournament special,” Fellers said. “When you win with friends it’s just a good feeling.”

The tournament’s end called for a new beginning as top performers from the four teams were named to the all-armed forces team representing the United States Dec. 3-10 in the annual NATO tournament in Belgium. The entire coaching staff hails from the Air Force. The team will be looking for a comeback -- the Americans won in 1997 and 1998, but fell to 5th last year.

Even after four years on the U.S. Air Force Academy’s NCAA Division I roster, 2nd Lt. Miguel Garcia plans to use the SHAPE tournament for furthering his abilities and expectations on the court. Garcia is spending his first assignment as the Academy Preparatory School’s assistant men’s basketball coach.

“I’ll take back a more positive attitude to my players, ” Garcia said. “I see how the players should be treated by the coaches, and I can hopefully influence their attitudes in life through basketball.”

Tournament Statistics

Nov. 15

Marines d. Navy, 89-72

Air Force d. Army, 79-62

Marines d. Army, 83-76

Air Force d. Navy, 91-72

Nov. 16

Navy d. Army, 86-81

Air Force d. Marines, 67-59

Army d. Air Force, 68-58

Marines d. Navy, 63-60

Nov. 17

Army d. Marines, 64-63

Air Force d. Navy, 80-67

Army d. Navy, 76-64

Air Force d. Marines, 71-59

Final Standings

1. Air Force, 5-1

2. Marines, 3-3

3. Army, 3-3

4. Navy, 1-5

Tournament All-Stars

Tech. Sgt. Edward Simpson, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.

Sgt. Aaron Stuart, Wheeler Army Air Field, Hawaii

Sgt. Billy Shanks, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C.

Seaman Marcellus Anderson, Naval Training Center Great Lakes, Ill.

Sgt. Jimmy Wheeler, Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Ga.

2000 Armed Forces Men’s Basketball Team

Spc. Craig Marcelin, Fort Huachuca, Ariz.

Sgt. Jimmy Wheeler, MCLB Albany, Ga.

2nd Lt. Miguel Garcia, U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo.

Pfc. Courtney Joseph, Fort Sill, Okla.

Seaman Marcellus Anderson, NTC Great Lakes, Ill.

Senior Airman Gregory Streeter, Pope AFB, N.C.

Lance Cpl. Jelani Nix, MCAS Cherry Point, N.C.

Pfc. T.C. Shields, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

Petty Officer 3rd class Sean Acker, Naval Station San Diego

Sgt. Tyrone Spears, MCAS Beaufort, S.C.

Staff Sgt. Troy Myles, Kirtland AFB, N.M.

Petty Officer 2nd class Jeffrey Johnson, Naval Air Station Atlanta

Head Coach: Don Fellers

Assistant Coach: Bonnie Daye

Trainer: Tony Milunas

Officer in Charge: Eddie Goad

Head of Delegation: Steve Brown

(2nd Lt. Celeste Rodriguez of the 437th Communications Squadron and photographer Staff Sgt. Larry Simmons of the 1st Combat Camera Squadron are both stationed at Charleston AFB, S.C.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAir Force Guard Tyrone Wilson (left) outmaneuvers Marine Corps co-captain Billy Shanks on an offensive drive. Photo by Staff Sgt. Larry Simmons, USAF.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAir Force Guard Eddie Dawkins (left) beats Navy's Warren Hargrove for a lay-up. Photo by Staff Sgt. Larry Simmons, USAF.   
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