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Recruiting is in the Air at High School Basketball Tournament

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Chance Babin
  • Air Force Reserve Command Recruiting Public Affairs
While the temperature dipped below zero outside of the Hoop Hall Classic in Springfield, Massachusetts in mid-January, it was toasty inside as recruiters from the Air Force Reserve and some of the top college basketball programs watched one of the most prestigious national high school basketball showcases in the country.

Air Force Reserve Command Recruiting Service teamed up as a sponsor with the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame for the 18th annual Spalding Hoop Hall Classic Jan. 17-21. The tournament featured many of the nation’s top-ranked teams and elite male and female players from throughout the country.

The tournament featured nine of the top 10 ranked teams in the country, according to USA Today team rankings, and an additional five teams in the top 22. It also had 12 of the top 22 players nationally.

“We will play 29 games in five days with teams from 17 different states,” said Greg Procino, vice president of basketball operations for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. “We are recruiting the top-level teams from each state. We will have a load of television coverage with ESPN, and we have a history that suggests there are a lot of future college and NBA players here.

“From a fan’s perspective, we will have 10,000 to 12,000 fans from a 90-mile radius in person to watch games over the course of the weekend. That certainly fits into the demographic or target market for (AFRC) recruiting.”

For the extended weekend tournament, approximately 410,000 viewers watched the event on the ESPN family of networks, not counting digital.

Working with the hall of fame is nothing new for the Reserve. AFRC was the lead sponsor for several high-profile college basketball tournaments over the holidays. These events created invaluable impressions both at the games and on live television coverage by ESPN.

“The Air Force Reserve’s commitment to the hall of fame’s portfolio of tournaments is a great brand connector,” Porcino said. “We view ourselves as a premium brand within basketball and the Air Force Reserve, as a military brand for our country, aligns well with our values and vision. All the funds raised support our nonprofit mission promoting and celebrating the game of basketball. Although basketball and the military are not necessarily the same thing, we do share some common values as an organization.”

While the recruiting efforts for this tournament fell under Westover Air Reserve Base, Massachusetts, several recruiters from Northern Recruiting Squadron headquarters joined Team Westover to put on a full-court blitz at the tournament.

“We have made this area a priority,” said Chief Master Sgt. Roger Haynes, Northern Recruiting Squadron flight chief. “The folks in our advertising section, led by Chief Master Sgt. Michael Johnson, have done a great job identifying areas we want to help put more resources.

“I’m a resource like other people. We are here to support this event and make sure things go well. We need everything from chiefs to Airmen in the trenches. Sometimes we all need to get back in the field and sharpen our swords, watch, observe and help. This is one of the biggest events in the nation for high school basketball in a really important location and we are here to support Team Westover.”

With so many elite players in the tournament, the crowd was filled with college coaches with recruiting on their minds too.

“In recruiting, I think it’s important we look for people that fit our organization,” said Danny Hurley, University of Connecticut head coach. “It’s a chance to come to events and meet recruits, to talk to them and get to know them … to know about their makeup and their character. It gives us a good idea of who we want to recruit into our organization because it takes a special person to be successful in the military or in sports.”

Prior to becoming a collegiate coach, Hurley was coaching high school basketball and his team played in the Hoop Hall Classic. He reflected on his journey to moving up the coaching ranks, which is similar to career progression in the military.

“It’s cool, kind of surreal to have been on the other side of it and now I’m the head coach at UConn,” Hurley said. “It just kind of speaks to the journey we all take through life. If you work hard enough and you are determined enough you can keep trying to push for a higher level."

For one Springfield College student working as a volunteer at the tournament, running into a recruiter fanned her desire to join the Reserve.

“My mom was in the Air Force Reserve and for a few years now I’ve been wanting to join the same way she did,” said Anna Marie Gregory. “I meant to talk to a recruiter on my winter break, but never did. Sergeant Coyer just happened to walk up and talk to me and tell me he is the recruiter for my area. It just was kind of like fate he came and talked to me. I hadn’t planned to talk to anybody yet. It definitely feels more real now having talked to a recruiter. I have to consider it a lot harder than I did before, but it does seem like two and two are coming together.”

Tech Sgt. Seth Coyer, a line recruiter at Westover, covers the Springfield area. “It’s been great working this tournament,” he said, “especially talking to the college kids here. They know how much school costs and they know we can definitely help them out with their bills.”

Recruiters from Westover invited their active-duty counterparts to join the effort as part of a total force initiative.

Staff Sgt. Erin Caines, assigned to the 319th Recruiting Squadron in Springfield, is an active-duty recruiter who sees many benefits to the collaborative effort.

“They didn’t have to invite us,” she said. It’s an Air Force Reserve-sponsored event and they called us and invited us to be part of it. It helps to have more recruiters here in different uniforms to see everyone represented.”

Caines said she sees working together – not against each other – as the logical way to do business.

“Not everybody is going to want the same thing,” she said. “If people come to us, and maybe they can’t do full-time, then we can just pass them on to the Reserve recruiter. And they do the same for us.”

In addition to the many military recruiters and college coaches at the event, several former NBA and WNBA players were in attendance, including a few Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame members.

Basketball legend and hall of fame member Bernard King, who played 14 seasons in the NBA after playing at the University of Tennessee, talked about some of the similarities between the military and basketball.

“When you look at basketball and the military there are certain correlations that exist, particularly in the training process and the recruitment of personnel,” King said. “Obviously in basketball, before you can really get to that recruitment stage, you have to have a good basis of training. It takes a great deal of commitment, as it does in the military, to motivate yourself to want to be a contributing member of a team. So teamwork is very important in the military and in basketball. With the training aspect, you have to have the discipline to understand the process and all it takes.”

WNBA legend and former Texas Tech star Sheryl Swoopes, a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, also shared her thoughts on recruiting for the military and for basketball.

“I think there are a lot more similarities than people might think,” she said. “When you are talking about the military, you want the best talent possible. I think some of the things you are looking for as far as recruiting athletes is toughness and character – finding people who are passionate about what they do. When you talk about the military, those are the same qualities and characteristics you look for.

She further elaborated on building a team and how it takes all the right ingredients.

“I know for me one of the most important things is finding the right pieces,” Swoopes said. “It’s not just about getting that one person. You want to find other people that work well together. Teamwork is very important whether you are talking about sports or the military. You want to know you are putting a great team together and they are going to be able to work together and have each other’s backs.”