A force on the court: Reliving 2003-04 men's basketball run

Posted at 10:50 PM, Apr 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-14 00:50:41-04

"I think we took the chip head coach Joe (Scott) gave us and we just punished people and had fun doing it," Hood said.

For former Air Force men's basketball players Antoine Hood (2002-2006), Nick Welch (2002-2006) and Jacob Burtschi (2003-2007), their magical moment in program history feels like just yesterday.

"It didn't matter who it was, you could line anybody up and we had a chance," Burtschi said.

"The amount of effort you put into that, you can't describe," Welch said. "I remember when we won the championship it was like no feeling I ever had because it was something so much greater than myself."

The 2003-04 roster was made up of mostly under-recruited gems mined by an upstart coach with something to prove. A team that seemed to unselfishly jell together with one goal in mind: Winning.

"You've got two guys averaging 11 points, two guys averaging 10, a guy averaging nine, a guy averaging eight off the bench and one averaging seven, who do you take away from that,?" Welch said.

Flying under the radar, the Falcons picked off one win after another, quickly emerging as a dangerous team out of the MWC.

"First it goes to, "we have a chance," to by the end of the year we were stepping on the court, we were no longer David, we grew into Goliath," Burtschi said.

Back then, Clune Arena was a tough ticket, with an even tougher group taking the court to play on it.

"You talk about the echos, you talk about home court advantage, Clune Arena is a huge home court advantage, hopefully it will get back there someday," Burtschi said.

"We would be in the gym with five-star guys and I don't think any of us would ever back down, and we took that same mantra to Air Force," Hood said.

By season's end, this team had shattered expectations by winning the school's first Mountain West Conference title, a then school-record 22 wins, and made their first trip to the NCAA Tournament in 42 years.

"Absolute madness, when you see your name pop up on the screen," Burtschi said. "It had been the first time since David Robinson at Navy that a service academy had made the NCAA Tournament."

15 years later, it's a program hoping to re-draw those blueprints to success with Scott returning to takeover the program for a second time.

"Just thinking like, "Man we are pretty dang good to be playing these teams and beating a lot of them," Welch said.

A short but sweet period in their history, when Air Force soared above the competition.

"I don't think the faculty or fans or the academy were ready for that level of success," Hood said. "It just blew everyone away."