Injured Air Force captains nearly ready to return

Published: December 11, 2013, 9:00 pm

Wyoming’s Leonard Washington dunks the ball in front of Air Force Academy players Mike Fitzgerald, (#5) and Kamryn Williams in the the first half of the Falcons’ 64-53 loss Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at Clune Arena. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

by Brent Briggeman -

The Air Force men’s basketball team is inching closer to finally putting the squad on the floor it envisioned for this season.

Kamryn Williams practiced Wednesday without restrictions on his injured hamstring and DeLovell Earls went for about 40 minutes as he continues to go every other day in his rehabilitation from a broken tibia.

Barring a setback, Williams will likely play against UC Riverside on Saturday. The target return date for Earls will be the Mountain West opener against Utah State on Jan.?1.

“They looked good today,” coach Dave Pilipovich said of his injured players. “(Earls) dunked the basketball. He’s springy, he’s made some shots. He looked good.”

Air Force has made due without their junior captains, going 5-4 as Earls hasn’t played at all and with jut 50 total minutes from Williams. Still, it doesn’t sound like either is in danger of losing playing time when they are ready.

“It’s strengthens it because you can’t replace that experience,” Pilipovich said. “And that’s what we’ve been missing.”

Williams will be given a chance to play at different guard positions in addition to the wing. The 6-foot-4 Sierra High School graduate largely played forward positions through his career that included 14 starts as a freshman and per-game averages of 3.3 points and 2.4 points in 30 appearances last year. He has three career double-doubles, while the other players on the roster have a combined one.

“We’re going to try it,” Pilipovich said. “I don’t know if it’s going to work. But he’s convinced us that he’s increasing his ball-handling skills and will be able to advance the basketball.”

As for Earls, his exact role remains in question. The Colorado Springs School graduate played at the power forward and even defended a few. He started 22 games last year, averaging 3.9 points and 3.1 rebounds.

“He’s so crafty,” Pilipovich said. “He was guarded last year both games by (UNLV’s) Anthony Bennett. Remember he spun on him here and drove for a layup, scored on him – and Bennett was the first pick in the NBA draft. He plays bigger than his 6-6 just because of his skill set.”

Air Force has two more games this month – Saturday’s 2 p.m. home game and a trip to UC Davis on Dec. 21 – before conference play begins.