Aaron McNeal of Marine Corps Base Hawaii looks to shoot as 3rd Force Service Support Group's Clifford Sales (4) defends during Monday's round-robin play. Hawaii routed 3rd Force 104-66.

Aaron McNeal of Marine Corps Base Hawaii looks to shoot as 3rd Force Service Support Group's Clifford Sales (4) defends during Monday's round-robin play. Hawaii routed 3rd Force 104-66. (Dave Ornauer / S&S)

CAMP KINSER, Okinawa — Kevin Cochran has played point guard for 1st Marine Aircraft Wing in the Marine Forces Pacific Regional Basketball Tournament four times since arriving on Okinawa in 1999. Each time, the gold medal eluded him.

Based on Wing’s performance Monday as the tournament opened, this might be Cochran’s best chance yet.

Wing took flight quickly and emphatically in round-robin play, rallying from a 14-point deficit to defeat two-time defending champion 3rd Marine Division/Expeditionary Force of Okinawa 67-57, then beating Iwakuni Air Station of Japan 83-62.

“This is my last one,” said Cochran, who will transfer later this year. “I want to win one.”

He could not have gotten off to a finer start, scoring 20 points to go with eight assists and six steals against Division, which won the title in 2000 and last year. The 2001 tournament was called off in the wake of Sept. 11.

“I wanted to beat the defending champions,” Cochran said. “If we did that, that would establish our confidence, be a real confidence boost for the rest of the tournament, and we got that out of the way.”

“We knew they were the team to beat,” Wing coach Garron Howard said of Division. “The focal point was to challenge them for the crown and take it from there. Hopefully, this will establish us for the rest of the week.”

Entering the tournament as two-time champion must have felt like wearing a bull’s-eye for Division, which later led by as many as 14 points in the first half before losing to Marine Corps Base Camp Butler 82-72.

“Everybody’s gunning for us,” Division coach Timothy Toney said of a team that boasts reigning tournament MVP Norman Capers and four other returnees, including 1992 All-Marine Paul Davis.

Despite that experience, Toney said his team is not as loaded as it appears. All-Tournament player Richard Meyers is gone, and defensive stalwart Orven Wooten was sent on deployment at the last minute.

“We don’t have the same squad,” Toney said. “They have to establish their own identity.”

Hawaii pours it on against outmanned corpsmen

How much pouring it on is too much?

That was the question asked by many an observer Monday after watching Marine Corps Base Hawaii roll up 83 second-half points en route to a 131-41 rout of U.S. Naval Hospital Camp Lester.

Though it had all the appearance of Hawaii running up the score, coach Garland Woodard insisted that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“We didn’t want anybody getting hurt,” Woodard said of a relentless press-and-transition strategy that kept his players running and from relaxing against Hospital, which suited up six players.

“If they had relaxed, they could have come down on somebody’s ankle, or gotten hurt in some other way,” Woodard said. “It was not intended. It just ended up that way.”

The corpsmen didn’t have the legs to stay with Hawaii, player-coach Eric Shropshire said.

“We’re out of personnel,” he said of a team that has plenty of players on its roster, but were missing many of them because of duty commitments. “When you’re out of legs, you can’t stay with that or stop it.”

author picture
Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now