The U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart unit-level basketball championship started out neck-and-neck.
But it wasn’t long before the undefeated team, Morale, Welfare and Recreation, showed why they haven’t lost a game yet, crushing U.S. European Command J6 53-36 in the final game March 4 inside the Patch gym.
EUCOM’s larger team dominated under the basket, but was no match for a series of steals and outside shots by MWR.
Eric Jones, MWR guard and the team’s most valuable player, attributed the victory to attitude and teamwork. “We expected to win,” he said. “It was unselfishness [with shooting].”
That’s not to say Jones didn’t earn his fair share of points. He scored a total of 18 total points — with four 3-pointers — during the game, the highest-scoring player on the court.
To counter MWR’s outside scoring, EUCOM focused on its big players.
Michael Steen, EUCOM center, muscled through more than one set of arms for several power layups, scoring 10 points, including the first basket of the game. Steen’s rebounding also gave his teammates a steady stream of second chances to score.
But MWR danced around him.
“The strategy was, we gotta outrun the big guy,” Jones said.
Halfway through the first half, MWR began grabbing breakaway steals, ending the half solidly in their favor at 30-21.
“The guard play is what took us there,” said Chris Jackson, an MWR guard who scored nine points. “Most importantly, we stayed together as a team, and that’s how we win.”
Meanwhile, EUCOM started throwing passes away.
“In the first couple minutes, we started going down low and it started working for us,” said EUCOM team captain and point guard Joel Pollard. “[But] we had too many turnovers and got frustrated.”
The loss was a disappointment for the EUCOM team, which made it through the season 9-3.
However, they’ll have another shot at a trophy in the Installation Management Command-Europe championship tournament at Ramstein Air Base March 25-28.
The MWR team is ineligible to play, since most of its members are civilians, but three of its service member players will join EUCOM in the tournament.
For Pollard, the tourney is a chance for EUCOM to show what they can do, despite the recent loss.
“We have some of the strongest players in the league,” he said.
The EUCOM players’ desire to prove themselves may be just what they need to win the next level.