2000-01 Season Preview
Air Force basketball has a new look, a new attitude and a new leading man entering the 2000-01 season. Head coach Joe Scott enters his first year after eight years as an assistant at his alma mater Princeton. The Toms River, N.J., native has Air Force basketball already going in a new direction.
"We're in the process of building a program, so we're asking our guys to do more at every position than ever before," Scott said. "We are going to do things at Air Force that winning programs do and that's stress toughness, competitiveness and playing to win. The guys that understand that are the guys that are going to play."
The starting back court from last year returns in C1C (Sr.) Jarvis Croff and C3C (So.) Vernard Jenkins. C2Cs (Jr.) Selwyn Mansell and Lamoni Yazzie also return, while newcomers C4C (Fr.) A.J. Kuhle and Greg Brown make up the remainder of the guards.
Croff was a second-team all-Mountain West Conference selection last year and finished fifth in the league in scoring with a 17.3 average. He enters the season ranked seventh in school history with a 15.8 mark. He needs just 162 points to become the school's 15th 1,000-point scorer. He's already second in school history in career three-point field goal percentage with a 38.9 mark.
"The coaching staff has high expectations for Jarvis," Scott said. "We want him to do more things like start the offense and pass and rebound more to help other players. He's good enough and willing to do these things. Jarvis is a leader and leaders give of themselves for the betterment of the program. That's how you get better."
Jenkins also figures heavily into Scott's plans. He started 22 games at point guard last year to become the first starting point guard at Air Force since Otis Jones in 1992. Jenkins led the team with 89 assists which is the most by a Falcon since 1996. He got better as the season went on and had 39 assists and just 18 turnovers his last nine games.
"Vernard needs to become a leader for us on the court. We want Vernard to have my pulse and think about the game the way I do so he can be more effective giving direction to the team," the coach said. "Vernard can score and we want him to recognize that and become interchangeable with Jarvis so that they both get us into the offense. That's important so that you can't type-cast either one of them."
Mansell and Yazzie provided the Falcons with depth and experience. Mansell is a more natural point guard while Yazzie is more of a scorer which fits well into Scott's plans. "Selwyn is a solid player and he's getting more confidence. Yazzie is a competitor that plays hard. He has a lot of the things you want in a player in our program. We want him to develop a better understanding of the game and he's already doing that."
Kuhle and Brown will not be able to help the Falcons right away due to injury and transfer status, respectively. "A.J. is a good shooter and competitor and if he recovers well from his surgery, he'll be able to help us," Scott said. "Brown will have a chance to practice every day and learn what we need from him. This will be an invaluable year for him."
C3C (So.) Tom Bellairs is the top returning forward. Bellairs' rookie campaign could not have gone much better. He was named co-MWC freshman of the year and made the conference all-newcomer team. The Denver, Colo., native finished second in the league in rebounding with a 9.2 average and was third on the team in scoring with an 8.2 norm. Bellairs was best against the best people, as he was the only player in the conference to average a double-double in conference games with 10.0 points and 10.1 rebounds. He shattered the Air Force freshman record for double-doubles with eight.
"Tom plays hard and he's a competitor. He's a terrific offensive rebounder, but we want him to become a better defensive rebounder because that limits our opponent's possessions," Scott said. "He's improving his shooting and all-around game which is great because he already does the little things that help you win games."
C1C (Sr.) Byron Nicholson also returns. He's experienced and athletic and should be a factor. "Byron's played more than the other guys and his experience will really help us," the coach said. Nicholson played in 23 games last year, starting five, after missing four games due to an injured shoulder. He had off-season surgery to repair the shoulder and is 100 percent.
C4Cs (Fr.) Robert Todd and Joel Gerlach, along with C1C (Sr.) Brian Ross, who comes from the junior varsity, will also compete for playing time at forward. "The question with these guys is whether or not they are ready to take the step up from the levels they've been playing at. The sooner they're able to do that, the sooner they're going to be able to help us," Scott said.
The Falcons will use a true center in their attack this season and a newcomer figures to man the position. C4Cs Josh Wallace, Tysen Pina and Grant Turley, along with Jon Baize from the junior varsity will all battle for time.
"We'll be asking our center to do a lot of things," Scott said. All of these guys have good skills and it will come down to who can make the transition and understand what we need the quickest as to who will play."
The coach commented that most programs are known for something. What
Air Force is known for is still unknown, but not for long for Scott. "Our
goal is for people to know that Air Force plays harder than anybody, they're
skilled, they play together and they play to win," Scott said.