Team preview: Air Force

Blue Ribbon Illustrated previews the 2005-06 college basketball season, exclusively on Insider.

Updated: November 5, 2005, 1:44 PM ET
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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

COACH AND PROGRAM

Jeff Bzdelik needed all of two minutes to place a call to Air Force when the job opened for the second time in 13 months last spring.

Bzdelik had been cooling his heels since the Denver Nuggets fired him in late December after a 13-15 start. Only a year before, Denver posted a 26-game turnaround under Bzdelik, the same season Air Force rose from the Mountain West depths to a storybook league title and NCAA Tournament appearance.

Then to no one's surprise, Joe Scott returned to Princeton, his alma mater, in April 2004. His popular successor, Chris Mooney, followed with only the second best season in academy history -- 18-12 with a third-place in the MWC. It was worthy of an NIT bid, but without an offer to host with a crowd guarantee, the Falcons were left sitting home in the postseason.

Not long after, Air Force was looking for a coach again. Mooney, with no advance speculation in May, left for Richmond to replace Jerry Wainwright, who had taken the DePaul job. Air Force needed only two weeks to fill the position.

Bzdelik brings 28 years of coaching experience, but only two years as a college head coach when he guided UMBC into the Division I ranks in 1987 and '88. He was also on the Northwestern staff and spent time with four NBA teams. During his involuntary sabbatical over the winter, he visited practices at colleges and pro teams to stay current with the game.

Transitioning from the NBA to unemployment to college ranks as a major adjustment for any coach who must get re-immersed in the recruiting circuit. Air Force has its unique challenges. When Bzdelik was hired in mid-May, his players were headed for their summer military assignments. Air Force cadets don't get to hang around campus all summer to work out in the gym and weight room.

Moreover, recruiting isn't as simple as collecting names and numbers from standouts on the AAU and all-star camps. Besides the high academic standards, AFA candidates must receive a congressional nomination.

Bzdelik made a smart decision when he retained Larry Mangino, a member of Scott's original AFA staff, to help him with the transition. Also, Capt. Rob Pryor was elevated from the academy's prep school, which feeds into the academy system.

"Larry had a huge role in the recent success at Air Force and I feel that he brings knowledge that no one else can to this coaching staff," Bzdelik said. Bzdelik thinks the early start of school -- Aug. 10 -- counters the summer basketball void to a degree.

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