Joe Scott‘s Second Go-Around With Air Force Basketball
Falcons are fairly successful this year.
Joe Scott has Air Force Basketball Poised for Success
After going 4-16 in his 2020-2021 campaign, Air Force’s prodigal coach, Joe Scott, left many of the Falcon faithful with a bad first (second?) impression. Looking at Scott’s career coaching record is only cause for further concern: 10 of Scott’s 17 teams as head coach finished the year with a losing record. While these trends may be alarming, confirmation bias may cast a dull shadow over the Falcons’ future; however, in spite of these concerns, it seems Joe Scott and Air Force may be headed in the right direction.
After a tough opening loss to South Dakota, in which Air Force lagged behind in the first half and never recovered, Air Force won 7 games in a row for the first time in 15 years. Throughout this stretch, the Falcons found a way to get the ball to leading scorer AJ Walker. Walker, who also led the Falcon’s in points-per-game in 2020 has posted his highest field goal percentage of his career at 50.7% through 13 games. A senior, AJ Walker has established himself as the go-to guy for the team. After a tough skid following the streak, the Falcons bounced back in the start of conference play as they upset Utah State, a team many projected to make the NCAA tournament, 49-47. However, losses to Montana, Tarleton, and Arkansas State reveal Air Force’s ongoing struggles to find an identity on offense.
While there is no denying Air Force has been inconsistent this year, thus far, Joe Scott’s squad has far surpassed expectations from last year. The youth of the team also lends reason for optimism looking forward. Behind Walker, Air Force’s next three highest scorers are all underclassmen: Jake Heidbreder, Ethan Taylor, and Joseph Octave. Heidbreder has established himself as a talented shooter, who consistently produces points night-in and night-out. His play shows a high basketball IQ, a good handle, and smart shot-selection. While only a freshman, Heidbreder plays like a veteran. Taylor, however, is rough around the edges: he shoots inconsistently at times and leads the team in turnovers. Ethan Taylor shows massive potential despite this. Although unpolished, Taylor plays with an infectious tenacity. He leads the team in rebounds, assists, and steals. Most impressive, however, is his performance against Air Force’s toughest opponent this year, 20th ranked Colorado State.
Air Force went into the game with numerous players out, including Walker. Ultimately, the game was a loss; however, Taylor played exceptionally well. In the previous game against Utah State, Taylor was 0-5 from the field; against the Rams, he shot 7-10 and 3-6 from behind the arc for a total of 19 points. His play helped keep the Falcons in the game, as they held Colorado State to nearly 15 points below their average points per game. Taylor’s effort flashed serious potential as a leader for the Falcons moving forward.
As AJ Walker moves on after this season, it’s imperative that Scott finds his next go-to guy for the Falcons. There’s reason to think he already has in both Heidbreder and Taylor. This tandem should be something to build the team around in future years. Despite all the question marks still surrounding him, Joe Scott has been able to catch lightning in a bottle before: he’s led both Denver and Air Force to conference titles in the past. It seems he may have found some lightning in these two freshmen.
While Air Force is nowhere near a conference power now, expect to see this team on the rise behind the development of the young team Joe Scott has at his disposal. For the immediate future, enjoy watching AJ Walker as he leads Air Force into what could be a promising conference campaign. With an 8-5 record the Falcons may not be experiencing the comparative success of others around the conference, but they’re doing better than they probably should be. After last year, an 8-5 record through the New Year feels like Air Force is playing with house money. Expect Scott to capitalize on the momentum; after all, he’s been the only coach in the last 60 years that has gotten Air Force to the NCAA tournament.