For many freshmen enrolling during the summer gives them the opportunity to get acclimated to a new school while also going through workouts with their teammates. That process is of even greater importance at the service academies, where newcomers are getting used to college life that’s more demanding than your standard college campus.
Forward Garrett Thibodeaux was going through that experience at the Air Force Academy, and it didn’t take him long to figure out that the new situation wasn’t the best for him. Saturday morning it was reported by Brett Briggeman of the Colorado Springs Gazette that Thibodeaux left the program eight days into basic training, and will enroll at UTSA.
The 6-foot-8 forward was one of three newcomers who directly enrolled into the Academy (it isn’t unusual for freshmen to be sent to the Academy’s prep school for a year to help with the adjustment), and he was expected to be a contributor for the Falcons.
Thibodeaux’s exit puts a bit more pressure on some returning Falcons, particularly 6-11 center Zach Moer and 6-8 forward Joe Tuss.
An excellent shooter, Tuss is the one many within the program hope stays healthy and emerges as a Marek Olesinski-type player and allow Moer to reprise his off-the-bench role of a year ago. The rest of the potential lineup would include Hayden Graham, Zach Kocur, Trevor Lyons and someone else, either someone from the incoming group or perhaps sophomore Ryan Manning.
For UTSA, the addition of Thibodeaux gives them an additional piece in a front court that lost its best player in Jeromie Hill (16.0 ppg, 8.1 rpg) and second-best rebounder in Kaj-Björn Sherman (7.0 rpg). Ryan Bowie is UTSA’s best returning rebounder (5.8 rpg), but he’s a 6-foot-1 guard.
UTSA’s now added five front court players to the program in advance of the 2015-16 season, with the group consisting of junior college transfer J.R. Harris and four freshmen (including Thibodeaux).
Slowly but surely college basketball programs are releasing their full non-conference schedules. And in the case of the 11 members of the Mountain West, they now know their possible path to a regular season conference title.
Wednesday the conference released its full league schedule, with four games on December 30 marking the start of conference play. Each team will play eight opponents both home and away, with single games (one home, one away) against the other two teams to reach a total of 18 conference games.
Of the four conference games to be played December 30, Fresno State’s trip to UNLV could be the most intriguing matchup. While the Runnin’ Rebels add one of the nation’s top recruiting classes to help account for the loss of four starters, most notably Christian Wood and Rashad Vaughn, Fresno State returns its top five scorers from a season ago led by senior guard Marvelle Harris.
Also on the schedule December 30 are Wyoming visiting preseason favorite San Diego State in a rematch of last year’s Mountain West tournament title game, Nevada visiting New Mexico and Utah State visiting San Jose State. The Mountain West will look to increase the number of NCAA tournament bids from last season’s total of three, which could have been even lower had the Cowboys not earned the conference’s automatic bid.
Below are the single-game matchups for each of the teams in the Mountain West. In larger conferences with unbalanced schedules, those single games can have a significant impact on the title race if head-to-head tiebreakers are needed to determine a champion.
Air Force: vs. Boise State, at San Diego State Boise State: vs. Fresno State, at Air Force Colorado State: vs. New Mexico, at Fresno State Fresno State: vs. Colorado State, at Boise State Nevada: vs. San Diego State, at San Jose State New Mexico: vs. Wyoming, at Colorado State San Diego State: vs. Air Force, at Nevada San Jose State: vs. Nevada, at UNLV UNLV: vs. San Jose State, at Utah State Utah State: vs. UNLV, at Wyoming Wyoming: vs. Utah State, at New Mexico
Context key in Matt Mooney’s transfer, bullying ‘accusations’
One of the stories that has made headlines this week has been the transfer of Matt Mooney out of Air Force.
Well, the transfer isn’t that big of a deal. It happened earlier this month, and Mooney was a freshman guard that averaged 6.9 points for a team that was irrelevant in the Mountain West race. His move isn’t a big deal to people outside of Air Force, the Mooney family and the handful of mid-major programs that are now re-recruiting him.
Q: Going to Air Force, I would assume is a much difference college experience than the normal college experience. Is that what you’re seeking, too, at this point — just a normal college experience? I mean, how long do you have to be in the military after graduating? Five years?
A: You’ve got to serve five years in the military. I honestly have no problem with the military, it’s just the Air Force Academy isn’t the same as the military. It’s a much different place. Freshman year here is really rough. It’s meant to be a year to see if you can stick it out and see if you’re ready for the military, but a lot of things go on that people don’t really realize. There’s a lot of bullying and things like that, honestly, because the system is [run] by upperclassmen. And freshmen have no power, whatsoever. It was just a rough year. It was kind of depressing, actually.
It’s just a tough place to be at. … It’s just not really what the military’s like here. Once you get out, it’s different. It’s much more relaxed. But here, it’s very controlled and very strict and disciplined. I went through six weeks of basic training. It was a tough year, to say the least.
Q: You mentioned bullying before. Are there specific examples of things that you had to do where you kind of look back and say, “Why did I have to do this?”
A: Freshmen were not allowed to wear our backpacks. We had to carry our backpacks in our left hand, and we have to run to and from class — to and from everywhere. One day, I was running to mandatory breakfast with my backpack in my left hand. I’m running there, it’s 6:45 in the morning, it’s cold. And one of the upperclassmen says I’m not running fast enough and they just dropped me and made me start doing push-ups. That’s kind of the stuff they can do. There’s a lot of examples, but that’s one of them.
Bullying is a hot-button topic these days — and rightfully so — which is why this story has made the rounds. Putting “so-and-so transferred because of bullying” in a headline is an easy way to garner some clicks, and Mooney learned the hard way that a quote taken the wrong way can make you trend on twitter.
He knows he shouldn’t have used the word ‘bullying’. I know this because he told me as much when I asked him.
But there are a couple of other important things to note here that put what Mooney said in context.
For starters, this is the way things work at many military academies. The first year a student is on campus, he or she is put through intense amounts of physical and mental stress. It’s not hard to find stories about this kind of treatment for freshmen at places like The Citadel or VMI, where freshmen are called “rats.” That’s the culture at a place like Air Force, and what didn’t get picked up as the story went viral was that Mooney said later in the interview, “All of the basketball guys, we all look out for each other. The seniors and stuff. But they’re not always around. I don’t have any of them in my squadron.”
So this wasn’t a decision based on the basketball team pushing him around. Mooney didn’t like the culture at Air Force.
How many freshman would?
More to the point, not everyone is cut out to be a military man.
And, here’s the important part, he also didn’t feel like he fit in with the way the basketball team plays. Air Force head coach Dave Pilipovich runs the Princeton Offense, and Mooney told the Tribune, “I didn’t actually really know what it was like until playing in it” and “I didn’t really like playing like that.” Then throw in the fact that he also told the paper that he didn’t like how being at Air Force limited his ability to get home to see his family, and what you have is a kid that’s not happy about the school he decided to play for.
Yes, the bullying that freshmen receive at Air Force played a role in his decision, but if you actually take the time to pay attention to everything that he said, you’d realize that there was a lot more than went into it.
“The article was taken completely out of context,” Mooney said on twitter after some of his quotes started to get picked up. “I am not leaving because of ‘bullying’. USAFA is a great place with lots of great people, too.”
So there it is. The full context of Mooney’s quotes.