Military athletes in Germany and Belgium are opening the new year by reviving league basketball beginning with games Sunday.

“This is the first time in two, three years we’ve run a league schedule,” Jim Mattingly, sports chief for the Army’s IMCOM-Europe, said by telephone Tuesday after unveiling a nine-community, seven-Sunday schedule leading to the U.S. Forces Europe championships March 25-28 at Ramstein, Germany.

“The soldiers wanted it, so we went ahead and put it together.”

League play and even multi-league play was the rule for military basketball in Europe for decades until drawdowns and deployments rendered playing a regular schedule difficult for communities in flux. For the past two seasons, military hoops has been a cobbled-together affair of sporadic holiday-weekend tournaments and season-ending service and interservice championships.

The regular league schedule will be followed by a U.S. Forces event that will include all comers. There are no longer separate community-level USAREUR and USAFE championships, although USAFE will continue to run its intramural and small-units events.

Nine communities are suiting up teams for the league — Baumholder, Heidelberg, Kaiserslautern, Mannheim, Schweinfurt, SHAPE, Spangdahlem, Stuttgart and Wiesbaden. SHAPE and Spangdahlem, the league’s lone predominantly Air Force entry, will not have women’s teams.

USAFE’s perennially tough Ramstein Rams and Lady Rams declined an invitation to join the league, Mattingly said, although they are a sure bet to take the floor at the U.S. Forces Europe championships they’ll host in March.

According to Mattingly, a cavalier attitude toward the schedule on the part of some teams helped end league play after 2007. That’s no longer the case, he said.

“In the past, teams would lose (to duty or injury) a fast guard or a big center and cancel,” Mattingly said. “This time, they’ve promised to follow the schedule.”

Sunday’s opening-day slate features games at SHAPE, Kaiserslautern, Heidelberg and Mannheim. Women’s games tip off at 1 p.m. and the men follow about two hours later. Mattingly suggested that teams facing a community with no women’s team play a men’s doubleheader instead.

Army Europe Basketball League 2010 scheduleSunday—Baumholder at SHAPE, Spangdahlem at Kaiserslautern, Schweinfurt at Heidelberg, Wiesbaden at Mannheim; Stuttgart idle.

Jan. 24—Mannheim at Schweinfurt, Stuttgart at Wiesbaden, SHAPE at Kaiserslautern, Baumholder at Spangdahlem; Heidelberg idle.

Feb. 7—Kaiserslautern at Baumholder, Spangdahlem at SHAPE, Schweinfurt at Stuttgart, Mannheim at Heidelberg; Wiesbaden idle.

Feb. 21—Wiesbaden at Schweinfurt, Heidelberg at Stuttgart, Kaiserslautern at Spangdahlem, SHAPE at Baumholder; Mannheim idle.

Feb. 28—Kaiserslautern at SHAPE, Baumholder at Spangdahlem, Heidelberg at Wiesbaden, Stuttgart at Mannheim; Schweinfurt idle.

March 7—SHAPE at Spangdahlem, Baumholder at Kaiserslautern, Heidelberg at Mannheim, Stuttgart at Schweinfurt; Wiesbaden idle.

March 21—Kaiserslautern at Wiesbaden, Schweinfurt at Heidelberg, Mannheim at Baumholder; SHAPE, Spangdahlem and Stuttgart idle.

March 25-28—U.S. Forces Europe championships at Ramstein.

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