460th CPTS Airman helps Air Force basketball team to fourth consecutive championship
By Tech. Sgt. Scott McNabb, 460th Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published October 19, 2010
BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- James Lewis was a star football player as a young child.
The 460th Comptrollers Squadron Airman's promising football career was forever secondary because of an addiction he picked up with a couple of friends one day after practice ... basketball.
"I'm addicted to playing. If I stop playing for about a week or two, I start having dreams about it," said the 6-2 guard/forward who played pro ball in Germany for four years before joining the Air Force and reporting directly for the all-Air Force squad. "It'll just be me at the court and I'll be, like, so at ease and having fun and I'll wake up in bed and I'll have the itch to play. Until I can get to the court, it won't go away. It sucks too. It's like a real withdrawal."
Lewis and the others on the Air Force team went to Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, in Washington D.C. and scratched out a fourth consecutive Armed Forces Basketball championship in a year no one gave them a chance at winning. Not even one of their own coaches.
"When we went to the tournament, we was hearing left and right, even from our own people, that we wasn't gonna win," said Lewis. "One of the coaches was like, 'I feel like we brought knives to a gun fight.'"
Deployments, injury and other commitments limited the team to just five returning players.
"All the other teams we've had a lot of Air Force Academy graduates," said Lewis. "We had two lieutenants that came in at the end of camp and one of them wasn't even a starter. But in years prior, we've had as many as six with two academy basketball players coming off the bench. Division I Mountain West players. Nobody else really brings people out like that."
This team was the blue collar team most tournaments never see from the Air Force.
"Every year with the academy guys, we're like knockdown, lights-out shooters," he said with a laugh. "This year we didn't. You know you have cake - it's nice and soft on the inside and that's the bread, but then you have the icing that can make it that much better. We didn't have any icing. It was just point blank pound cake."
Lewis is what coaches call a "tweener." He's too short to be considered a big man, but grew up playing down low and picked up guard traits as he progressed and other players grew taller around him. Now, his pride lies in being a defensive stopper against the opposition's best scorer.
"It's just the matter of knowing how to play people," said Lewis. "Me coming off the bench, I get a chance to see how they're playing and know how to play them. Whatever makes somebody uncomfortable is usually good for defense."
Defense was a must for this year's Air Force team as John Bailey, the coach, went to a seven-to-eight man rotation.
"This is the year if anything that we had something to prove, because everyone brought their same teams," said Lewis. "We fought for every victory we got this year. Even if it was a 10-point win, then we still clawed it out. It was a knockdown, drag-out fight because everyone was coming for us because this was the year that we seemed most vulnerable."
And they did lose in the tournament. The Marines showed them defeat with a last-second buzzer beater that shocked the Air Force Team into the reality of their situation.
"The Marines game was our first game of the tournament, so that kind of shell-shocked everybody, and told us we needed to get our heads out of our butts," said Lewis. "Three years of not losing and come back to lose to the Marines of all people."
Luckily people were on their side. And in their locker room. Not just any people. Former players and coaches. In addition to taking diet and rest seriously, the team had the support of the men who filled their sneakers in years past. They blend into huddles, hung out with players before, during and after the game and were asked for opinions on what they saw after the coaches talk to the players at halftime.
"They're not strangers," he said. "They're family. This is the first time I really understood the severity of the situation and how seriously some people take it."
And the family was happy. After Lewis and the other guys in blue went up 20 on Army in the championship game, Air Force kept an eight point win and the championship streak alive, and feed the addiction for more successful basketball.
"We'll win another one for sure," said Lewis with confidence. "Next year will probably be the most competitive team we've had, because most of the team is coming back."