Game 033: at Bucknell 63, Army 46Sojka Pavilion - Lewisburg, PA
Saturday, January 15, 2005
Last month, Spc. Thomas Wilson of the 278th Regimental Combat Team surprised U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with a tough question
during an event that was supposed to be a pep rally.
"Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to uparmor our vehicles?"
Rumsfeld, clearly caught off-guard, mumbled something about the difference between the army you have and the army you want. Soon thereafter, there was a minor controversy when it was found out that a reporter had put the soldier up to the question. Despite being named Time magazine Persons Of The Year
, we "citizen journalists" don't enjoy that kind of access yet. But had I been in that airplane hangar on that day, I would have slipped a private a pack of cigarettes, a Playboy and a ten-dollar bill to have him shout out another tough question.
"Why does the Army
basketball team have to dig through local landfills to find players?"
The man in charge of America's D probably would have fumbled badly in his response to that one, too - it's a real toughie. While it's not quite as serious as the spectre of Our Nation's Bravest putzing around Iraq in fifty-year-old Humvees, the Army hoop squad is truly a rag-tag bunch. The Black Knights currently own a 2-13 record (0-3 in the Patriot League), and would be winless if not for December scheduling coups like Polytechnic and something called "New York Maritime."
West Point basketball wasn't always this bad. But it's certainly been a while - only the old-timers can remember a time when Army was any type of hardcourt heavyweight. They were a dominating crew in the era between the Great Wars, back in the days when Leo Novak roamed the sidelines. They performed decently during the Korean War era. And as the Cold War seesawed back and forth, so did the Army team's fortunes - until a Knight of a different color came and took control. After General Bob left, the Vietnam War started going badly (coincidentally, of course). Their last good run was during the Carter Administration, under the tutelage of Captain
Mike Krzyzewski (I've heard that he's found gainful employment since), and their only winning season since the 1980 departure of the K-Man was a 16-13 run in 1984-85. Then came Iran-Contra, and things haven't been the same since.
So why can't the government find anything in the defense budget to buy a winning basketball season - in the humble little Patriot League, no less? It's certainly not for lack of a good coach. Jim Crews is a smart, articulate gentleman who came into this season 46th on the all-time list for Division I victories. After eight years as an assistant for General Knight at Indiana
, he led the Evansville
Purple Aces to six 20-win seasons, four Tournament berths (including two the at-large way), and advanced to the second round on 1989's Big Bracket.
Talk to Crews, and he's brutally honest about his team's current troubles. After another lopsided loss, a 63-46 decision at Bucknell
, he reflected on the state of the Army attack. "It's not a very effective offense," he said after a deep exhale.
And on a night when the homestanding Pittsburgh
-slaying conference favorites (who destroyed Army 75-25 in their last meeting back in February) sleepwalked through a 21-point first half, even the most marginally effective offenses could have taken advantage. But not Army, who shot 6-for-22 and only trailed by one at the break. When Bucknell reawoke in the second half to put up 42 points and put the game out of reach, the Black Knights' bricklaying continued unabated. Their lack of a "go-to" guy is clearly evident: seven different players have led the team in scoring over Army's first 15 games.
The team's Courtland Security department is also suffering. They suffer from continual brain-freezes and miscommunication on defense, and the only Division I schools they've outrebounded so far have been low Ivy Cornell
and the fightin' Lilliputians of St. Francis (N.Y.)
. During one second-half sequence in last night's game, guard Matt Bell screamed out "switch!" without specifying a recipient for the message. No fewer than three players left their men - the Bison were allowed to easily penetrate and score. One longtime observer of the Patriot League
summarized Army's standard defensive approach of recent years in one simple sentence: "They're small, and they try to beat you up."
Yes, a large part of Army's personnel troubles have to do with size. And size does matter - their tallest player is 6'11", 235 lb. redhead Jimmy Sewell, who unfortunately appears to be a leading candidate to be the first D1 player ever to snap in half. He was only of minor inconvenience to Bucknell's inside force, Chris McNaughton, who moved him around as if repositioning a floor lamp in his dorm room. After Sewell, the tallest Black Knight stands at six-foot-six. Opposing offenses often find themselves with a "through" option to go with "above" and "around."
When Army takes to the hardcourt, they are awkward, gangly, clumsy and blindingly Caucasian. But it's not as if they have any sort of recruiting problem. Television viewers are regularly beseiged by "Army Of One" advertisements, and the Academy pretty much has their pick of the young best-brightest who walk into their offices in strip malls across America. Can you imagine if Duke
were allowed to run recruiting ads on television? It would be a scandal.
The Army basketball team, sadly, mirrors the growing public perception of our troops overseas - ill-equipped, under-resourced, overly frustrated. It's not helping the morale of the future policemen of the world when they're getting continually being beat down by Colgate
That's why it's in America's interest to have a good - if not great - Black Knights squad. If you are (or are the parent of) a high-school prospect, please consider the U.S. Military Academy. 'Cause nothing's more patriotic than the Patriot League, and the Black Knights are fighting with "hillbilly armor" out there. The Army basketball team we have sucks, and the Army basketball team we want hasn't existed for a quarter-century.
It's a disgrace to our great nation.Photo Gallery