Leadership Ideas, Information and News

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Face of Defense: Air Force Officer Pursues NBA Dream

By Air Force Staff Sgt. Mareshah Haynes
Defense Media Activity

SAN ANTONIO, Oct. 13, 2010 – A U.S. Air Force Academy graduate continues to pursue his childhood dream of playing in the National Basketball Association.

Air Force Capt. Antoine Hood, a reservist with the 919th Special Operations Wing who divides his time between Hurlburt and Duke fields in Northwest Florida, is the only Air Force Falcon to play in the NBA, and he’s on his way to realizing his dream once more.

Hood got a glimpse of the NBA again when he was able to practice with the Miami Heat during the team’s preseason training camp at Hurlburt Field.

However, Hood’s journey hasn't been without hiccups.

"In high school, I didn't really get any playing time until my senior year, so I rode the bench from freshman to junior year," he recalled.

Yet, Hood became a starter during his senior year and his high school basketball team gained the No. 1 ranking in the state of Texas.

“It turned out to be a good year and I blossomed into a player, and from there the dream became a reality," Hood said.

During that breakout year, a college recruiter offered Hood a full scholarship to play basketball for the U.S. Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, Colo. At the urging of his parents, he accepted the scholarship. Although the academy’s basketball program wasn’t highly rated at the time, Hood said he wasn’t discouraged.

"I wasn’t a stranger to adversity, so that didn’t intimidate me to say the least," Hood said. "My parents always told me: ‘It’s not where you are or where you go; it’s what you do when you get there.’”

However, the academy’s basketball team won just 12 games during Hood’s freshmen year on the squad, he recalled.

“I kept that near and dear to my heart and I realized my freshman year, after we won only 12 games, which was still the most in school history since the 1960s, that that had to change," he said.

Hood decided it was time to step up his game, and after consulting with the academy’s basketball coaching staff on what he needed to do to improve as a player, he began to work even harder.

"Antoine was a privilege to both play with and coach, and I have seen very few people grow as much as he did in such a short time," said A.J. Kuhle, the academy’s basketball team military assistant from 2005 through 2007. "As a player, he always pushed himself and those around him to reach for the highest degree of excellence. He demanded and worked toward perfection each day on and off the court."

"I started putting in some hard work and focused as much as possible," Hood recalled. "It took hours in the gym. I used to break into the gym after hours. I would sneak in through the hockey door, through the girls’ basketball locker room, whatever I had to do. I was determined [that any] spare time I had, I would be in the gym."

Hood knew he couldn’t change the direction of the team alone. Just as in the Air Force, it would take everyone doing their part to accomplish the mission.

"My teammates would see me in the gym, and I would encourage them to come down more," Hood said. "I would send out an e-mail [saying], ‘Let’s go get some shots up,’ and just created an environment that we needed to be doing something extra. In everything we go through at the academy −- all the anger, all the yelling −- on a daily basis, we should have a chip on our shoulder and we should take it out on our opponent. And we kind of harvested as a mentality and protected our home court, and it became a lot more serious and it showed up in our game."

The team’s record began to improve and the Falcons’ basketball team began getting national attention. That attention, in part, led to Hood being offered a spot on the Denver Nuggets as a guard. He signed with the Nuggets for a year.

As a Denver Nugget, Hood said he shared the court with players he had admired as a young basketball player. He had finally stepped out of his dream and into the reality of it.

"It was a surreal feeling having a locker next to Carmelo [Anthony], and these are guys [I] used to watch coming up," he said.

After the year with the Nuggets was up, Hood returned to the active-duty Air Force as a commissioned officer. As an academy graduate, Hood was obligated to fulfill his service commitment in return for the investment the Air Force had made in his education and career.

"I understood, and I definitely never ran away from any commitment that I’ve had in life," Hood said. "No one made me go to the academy and I knew what I was getting into from the jump. With the amount of time, money and education invested into me as an academy grad, I can completely understand giving back my commitment to my service and my country."

Not being able to re-sign with an NBA team may have been a detour, but it definitely wasn't the end of the road for Hood.

In previous years, Hood said, there had been policies in place that allowed Air Force athletes who were selected to compete at the professional level to be released after fulfilling a portion of their service commitment. During the time Hood was deemed eligible to enter the NBA, he said, the policy wasn’t in place. Now that he is a reservist, he is able to sign with an organization at any time.

"I’m ready to reinvent myself and ready to hit the ground running," he said.

On the road toward his dream, Hood said he has gained leadership skills from being in the Air Force and the NBA.

"[There’s] a direct parallel [between the two]," he said. "If everyone is doing their job on the team and taking care of their area, mastering their skills, the sky is the limit on how great a team you can be and the same is true with the Air Force.

"The hardest part of leadership in both arenas is delegating," Hood continued. "If I’m a point guard, I have to delegate responsibility to the center, and the day I tell a point guard how to do his job is the day I’m in trouble. You only want to step in when you have to step in, and that’s when you know someone isn’t performing to the standard you know they can or their outside lifestyle is affecting their performance at the job."

Hood said the lessons he has learned from the Air Force have shaped him as an officer, a basketball player and a person.

"As cliché as it sounds, integrity, service [before self] and excellence, are still great molding qualities that a person of success should attain somewhere along their journey," Hood said.

(Editor’s Note: Samuel King of the 919th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs Office contributed to this story.)

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