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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A year ago, Greg Mitchell mentored the championship team. Next week, he squares off against them as coach of another.

Mitchell won’t have to wait long to face the Marine Corps Base Hawaii team he coached to the Marine Forces Pacific Regional Basketball Tournament title last July.

Mitchell’s current team, Okinawa’s 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, plays Hawaii in the first round-robin game at 10 a.m. Monday.

“It’s going to be amazing,” said Mitchell, a master sergeant who transferred several months ago to Futenma Air Station on Okinawa. “It’s going to be similar to teacher vs. students, master vs. apprentice.”

The game kicks off the week-long Marine regional tournament, which serves as a qualifier for the All-Marine tryout camp this month at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Six players from the tournament will attend the camp, with selected players joining the All-Marine team for the Armed Forces championships slated for May 23-31 at Charleston Air Force Base, S.C.

Mitchell feels the race for the Marine regional title could be a horse race among four teams: defending champion Hawaii, his 1st Marine Aircraft Wing team, former two-time defending champion 3rd Marine Division/Expeditionary Force and 3rd Force Service Support Group of Okinawa.

“It’s going to be a wide-open tournament. Anybody’s tournament,” he said. “One of those four teams could be expected to rise up.”

Mitchell says he plans to keep a close eye on Division, which welcomes Nathan McQuirter from Hawaii to the fold. “It’s going to be interesting to see him with his new teammates,” he said.

Mitchell’s Wing team as well as Division and 3rd Force will count on a gaggle of players from the various “open” teams around the island.

One of them, Kevin Cochran, a veteran of six Marine regionals, returns at point guard for Wing in what may be his last shot at reaching the All-Marine camp from Okinawa.

Mitchell expressed excitement at starting with Hawaii, coached by his former assistant Guy Woodard.

Mitchell and Woodard coached together for two years. “We talk almost every day, trying to size each other up,” Mitchell said. “He knows my players; I know his.”

Hawaii’s handful of new faces aren’t strangers to the game, Mitchell said.

The team plays against other military ballclubs and civilian teams in Hawaii’s tournament circuit. Mitchell says Woodard also plans to bring several players that duty commitments kept from attending the tournament the past few years.

“We didn’t bring everybody that we could have,” he said. “Now, they’ll be getting a chance. They could still be good.”

Hawaii, with titles in 1999 and 2003, and Division, winners in 2000 and 2002, have dominated the tournament in recent years. Mitchell said he’s hoping Wing can end a drought that extends back to 1995.

“My intention is to win. That’s the bottom line,” he said.

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He served 10½ years in the Air Force, the last 4½ assigned to Stripes in Tokyo, and was then hired by Stripes on Oct. 25, 1985. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages Pacific Storm Tracker.
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