2008 Air Force Basketball Blue Ribbon Preview

COACH AND PROGRAM

Jeff Reynolds was an assistant coach at Air Force for the program’s best back-to-back seasons in school history. The Falcons won 50 games from 2005-07 and 22 Moun-tain West games. That success resulted in appearances in both the NCAA Tournament and NIT.

That success would be hard for Reynolds to duplicate in his first season as head coach at Air Force. He inherited a team with only one returning starter and a lot of unproven players. But even though the Falcons dropped off some, they were still competitive, with a 16-14 record and 8-8 league mark, good for fifth place.

“I think in a lot of ways we over-achieved, with only one starter back and no one with any quality minutes,” Reynolds said. “In the league, I thought we probably finished a little higher than what most people anticipated. I thought we were one game away from a postseason bid in the NIT. “Overall I would give us a B-minus.”

Air Force Falcons

Last Season 16-14 (.533)
Conference Record 8-8 (5th)
Starters Lost/Returning 2/3
Coach Jeff Reynolds (UNC Greensboro ’78)
Record At School 16-14 (1 year)
Career Record 98-48 (5 years)
RPI Last 5 years 70-114-50-30-167

Reynolds described last season as “re-tooling.” He thinks this year will be more of a “re-building” campaign with eight incoming freshmen. But that doesn’t mean Air Force will be an easy win for anyone in the conference.

PLAYERS

The Falcons return three starters and eight letter winners. The biggest impact player back is 6-6 senior guard Andrew Henke (#10, 11.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.5 apg). He played the fourth most minutes (27.9) per game on the team last season, but all came off the bench. He was the team’s leading rebounder, second-leading scorer and made a team-high 60 three-pointers. He will be counted on to be even more productive this season.

“Andrew is a young man that really bought in to what we wanted him to do last year,” Reynolds said. “He did play starter minutes. We asked him to be a guy to come off the bench for us. He accepted that role and did it very well.

“Certainly this year he has to be impactful for us. I think his leadership will be there. He’s added some strength and last year was able to drive the ball instead of being just a catch-and-shoot guy. He will play a significant role for us this year and play more minutes than last year.”

Henke and other members of the team must pick up the slack for departed senior guard Tim Anderson (14.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.7 apg, 2.2 spg, 36.3 mpg), who was the team’s best player. He was a second-team all-conference pick and was voted the league’s defensive player of the year.

Three starters return, including 6-4 sophomore guard/forward Evan Washington (#35, 6.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.6 apg). He averaged 33.5 minutes per game last season as a freshman. He was fourth in rebounding and fifth in scoring among the league’s freshmen.

The other two returning starters are senior forwards: 6-5 Anwar Johnson (#42, 7.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.4 apg) and 6-6 Matt Holland (#31, 5.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg). Johnson was one of three players to start in all 30 games last season. He was second in assists on the team and tied for third with 25 steals.

Henke, Johnson and Holland are used to winning. They rank fourth in Air Force history in career wins with 66.

Those three, along with Washington, will be counted on to provide most of the production and leadership this season.

Reynolds said the two most important players in his offense are the lead guard and center, and replacements for both must be found.

Incoming freshmen will probably share the lead guard spot.

The top candidates include 6-2 Scott Stucky, who Reynolds said could play both guard spots, 6-3 Jon Atkins and 6-2 Shawn Hempsey.

Atkins played for Air Force’s prep school last season. Reynolds said of all the incoming freshmen, Atkins has the best chance to start.

“He’s athletic and in some ways reminds me of Matt McCraw — a young man we had here who was so good,” said Reynolds about Atkins. “If he can have that kind of career for us, then we got a really good player.”

At center, starter Keith Maren (7.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg) is gone, as is backup Eric Kenzik (3.3 ppg, 1.8 rpg).

Air Force has three post players that lettered last season, but played on a very limited basis. Phillip Brown, (#21) a 6-7 sophomore, scored six points and had four rebounds in only one game. Junior Mike McClain (#33), at 6-8, played in only three games and averaged less than two minutes of action. Grant Parker (#50, 1.8 ppg, 1.4 rpg) at 6-7 is the most experienced of the lot, but played in only five games.

Reynolds is high on a pair of incoming freshmen: 6-9 Trevor Noonan and 6-7 Sammy Schafer. Noonan is an in-state product from Broomfield, Colo., and Schafer is from Oregon City, Ore.

“If [Noonan] can grasp the system, he has the skill set to certainly do it for us,” Reynolds said. “[Schafer] is thin but very skilled. He really needs to bulk up to play in our league and probably needs a year to get ready.”

Reynolds described 6-5 freshman Chase Anderson as the team’s most versatile player that could play any position on the floor.

Two other freshmen who could see time are 6-5 guard/forward Taylor Stewart, the Mr. Basketball runner-up in Kentucky last year, and 6-3 guard Brandon Provost from the Houston area. He’s athletic and a good perimeter shooter.

Other lettermen who return for the Falcons but are still unproven players include: 6-5 sophomore forward Derek Brooks (#24, 0.8 ppg, 0.6 rpg), 6-6 sophomore forward Tom Fow (#20, 0.8 ppg, 0.8 rpg), 6-2 junior guard Saj El-Amin (#13, 0.2 ppg, 0.2 rpg) and 6-2 junior guard Avery Merriex (#22, 2.4 mpg).

BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS

BACKCOURT: C
BENCH/DEPTH: C
FRONTCOURT: C
INTANGIBLES: B

Despite the lack of experience and depth right now, it’s difficult not to think Air Force won’t be competitive in the Mountain West. Just look at last season.

The team runs a hybrid of the Princeton offense and will back-cut and back-door teams to death, but also will put up shots early if they are good ones. It also plays good defense, even though Reynolds said that was a phase of the game that struggled down the stretch last season.

Air Force won’t beat teams 90-80, but wins the 60-50 game with a premium on making teams work for everything they get.

Plus, the Falcons have one of the best homecourt advantages in the nation at cozy Clune Arena, where they are 68-6 overall and 35-5 in conference games since the beginning of the 2003-04 season.

Reynolds said his recruiting class was ranked in the top 75 in the nation, which would be a first for Air Force. As many as three for four of those freshmen could play this season.

He hopes those young guys can mature in a hurry, considering the rest of the league is returning a lot of proven and productive players.

“It’s not necessarily how young and inexperienced we’re going to be, but the league is going to be so good and so experienced,” Reynolds said. “I think that’s where we have to be really careful. Hopefully we come along real fast in the preseason with our schedule because once we get into the league, I don’t know many leagues around the country that returns as many starters [31] and major contributors than we do.”

Ten of the 15 players who earned all-conference honors last season return in 2008-09.

“I’ve often said recruiting is the second-most important part of anyone’s program,” Reynolds said. “I think scheduling is, too. We will try to download our non-conference schedule because of our youth, but no one wants to play us at home.

“I think what you’re seeing now is because of the success of the program [20-plus wins three of the last five years] we’re getting involved in a better player out of high school. Now we hope those players can get through the rigors of the academy lifestyle and be able to hold their ground.”

Reynolds figures to be around for a while. He signed a contract extension after last season.

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