New Era On Tap For AFA Basketball
Nov. 2, 2000
By Meri-Jo Borzilleri
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Joe Scott's office walls are practically bare, and the most prominent item on his desk is a new bottle of Chloraseptic, the product used to ease sore throats.
Scott, Air Force's new men's basketball coach, prefers Hall's lozenges, which he gets by the bagful for himself and assistants.
That's because Scott has been doing a lot of talking since spring, when he was hired to replace 16-year coach Reggie Minton, 58, when Minton's contract was not renewed after last year's 8-20 season, the last of 16 non-winning seasons in Minton's tenure.
A former Princeton player and assistant under Pete Carril and Bill Carmody, Scott is teaching a completely new offense. He is selling a new program to fans. He is badgering the administration to make basketball mean something on a campus accustomed to hoops mediocrity.
Scott's new Air Force team - some are calling it Princeton West - will be unveiled tonight when the Falcons host the Lithuanian Travelers in the exhibition opener at 7 p.m. at Clune Arena. Admission is free.
Air Force's season opens officially on Nov. 16 against Houston in the Black Coaches Association Tournament in Winston-Salem, N.C. Other teams in the field are Wake Forest and Mount St. Mary's.
The Falcons' home opener is Nov. 24 against Denver. They begin conference play Jan. 8 at UNLV. Under Minton, Air Force went 150-296.
Those coming to watch tonight will see some familiar names. But they'll be playing entirely differently. The Princeton half-court, screen-and-cut offense requires versatility in each player and a certain mental adroitness.
"There are lot more options," says sophomore guard Vernard Jenkins. "You might have one play and five different options. It's real hard to defend. It takes a lot of concentration. You can't sit down and relax for a second. I can see why Princeton is doing so well."
From Day 1, Scott demanded every player be good at passing, dribbling and shooting. He has everyone shooting 3s, from 6-foot-9 freshman forward Josh Wallace to the 5-9 Jenkins.
"Everybody has to shoot 3s, everybody has to dribble the ball," says Scott. "When we do a dribbling drills, our centers dribble the ball up the court like our guards do. Because of what we do, the more we can get our guys to all be that way, the harder we are to guard. ...It would have been a shame if Larry Bird's coach told him, 'Hey kid, go stand 4 feet in front of the basket' because he was 6-9."
Not that it's been an easy adjustment. Tom Bellairs, the conference's leading rebounder and Mountain West co-freshman of the year, briefly considered transferring when Minton was let go. He's gotten to like Scott and enjoy the new system. The new offense asks Bellairs to set up on the wing, farther from the basket.
"It's a whole different perspective," Bellairs said. "I like it a lot. It brings a lot of new things I can do."
It took senior Jarvis Croff, who led the team in scoring with a 17.3 average, longer to adjust.
"At first I had some reservations about the system," Croff said. "But I'm a basketball player and I have to adapt. ...I have a scorer's mentality. It makes you more selective in when you take those opportunities. That's been the biggest adjustment."
Another adjustment - a different coaching style from the low-key Minton. Scott, 35, worked briefly as a lawyer in New Jersey before returning to coaching as a low-paid assistant. His passion for the game is evident. He brings an edge to practice sessions.
"He's real aggressive," Croff said. "He's going to be straightforward with you."
"He'll jump on you right away," Bellairs said. "He lets you know what's expected of you. I like it a lot."
All of which gives players reason to be more optimistic than usual this season.
"No more winning just eight games," Jenkins said. "Those days of eight wins are over."