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Kirtland intramural basketball preview: Team Lopez shoots their shot

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Tyrone Cook, 377th Weapons System Security Squadron, poses with a basketball for a portrait at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., Dec. 12, 2018. Cook is a small forward for his team and hopes to average 20 points a game this upcoming season. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Austin J. Prisbrey)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Tyrone Cook, 377th Weapons System Security Squadron, poses with a basketball for a portrait at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., Dec. 12, 2018. Cook is a small forward for his team and hopes to average 20 points a game this upcoming season. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Austin J. Prisbrey)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Yaquis Cole, 377th Weapons System Security Squadron, poses with his favorite pair of basketball shoes, retro Jordan 11 'breds" for a portrait at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., Dec. 12, 2018. Cole is the team captain for the 377th WSSS basketball team and is hoping to win a championship for his squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. J.D. Strong II)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Yaukis Cole, 377th Weapons System Security Squadron, poses with his favorite pair of basketball shoes, retro Jordan 11 'breds" for a portrait at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., Dec. 12, 2018. Cole is the team captain for the 377th WSSS basketball team and is hoping to win a championship for his squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. J.D. Strong II)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Yaquis Cole and U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Tyrone Cook, 377th Weapons System Security Squadron, pose for a photo at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., Dec 12, 2018. Cole hopes to bring a men's varsity team to Kirtland Air Force Base and eventually try-out for the Armed Forces Men's Basketball Team. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. J.D. Strong II)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Yaukis Cole and U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Tyrone Cook, 377th Weapons System Security Squadron, pose for a photo at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., Dec 12, 2018. Cole hopes to bring a men's varsity team to Kirtland Air Force Base and eventually try-out for the Armed Forces Men's Basketball Team. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. J.D. Strong II)

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- “Players with high character get better. Players with a serious approach get better. The fools never get better,” former NBA coach and analyst Jeff Van Gundy, said once, describing the process of player development.

The 2019 Kirtland Intramural Basketball season is scheduled to begin, Jan. 8 and each participating squadron team will be allotted the chance to show their improvement from last season. 

The 2018 champions, 377th Security Forces Squadron Law Enforcement Team Lackey won't be participating this season due to permanent changes of stations for core team members. With the reigning champions out, a void for top spot has been created. A slew of other teams have been created in hopes of stepping up, but one young, ambitious squad has already declared victory and the throne as theirs.

“We have everything to beat all the other teams: chemistry, skill and knowledge to out beat everyone,” said Airman 1st Class Yaukis Cole, 377th Weapons System Security Squadron Team Lopez captain and point guard. “I wouldn't call us a super team, but we’ll be called one because of the way we play, the skills we have and the dominant fashion in which we will win.”

Cole and Team Lopez’ Defenders will enter the season with the second smallest roster submitted, but believe they have biggest advantage over all the other teams--team chemistry. 

“This year we have five players who have played together since the beginning of our night pick-up games two years ago,” said Cole. “This team has more chemistry, we know each other and how each other plays. We know what we can do and what we can't do.” 

Not only does their squad spend time on the court, but the team works together to complete the mission day in and day out. The Defenders also spend time outside of work together, to play video games, party and relax, according to Cole. 

Cole and Team Lopez started preparation for this season at the end of last season. Nightly games with other elite base talent forged a better point guard in Cole and more fluidity to his game and his teammates. In addition to late-night games, Lopez team members joined off base leagues to hone their skills. 

“We did a lot of late night scrimmaging against other people just to see what we could do together,” said Cole. “I play in a couple leagues and I have changed my game around to be more of a passing and floor-general point guard instead of the scoring guard that I am.” 

With all the preparation and practice in anticipation for the season, the fact still remains that the 377th SFS Law Enforcement won last year and enter the season fresh off of a flag football championship too. Cole and his team are un-phased and look forward to the competition. 

“We will be the best team they ever saw,” said Cole. “Bring it on.”

If you want to see the Team Lopez on their road to the intramural championship, their first game is scheduled for Jan. 10 at 5:30 p.m. inside of the newly renovated West Gym Fitness Center on Kirtland AFB.