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Military
By USAF SSgt. Mareshah Haynes

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NBA Dream Becomes Reality For Academy Grad
(October 9, 2010)

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Capt. Antoine Hood works on his crossover dribble as Octavio DeLagrana looks on during a workout session at Sept. 29, 2010, Hurlburt Field, Fla. Captain Hood played college basketball at the Air Force Academy from 2002 through 2006 and after graduation played briefly with the NBA's Denver Nuggets. Captain Hood is assigned to the 919th Special Operations Wing and Mr. DeLagrana is a Miami Heat player development coach. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sheila deVera
Capt. Antoine Hood works on his crossover dribble as Octavio DeLagrana looks on during a workout session at Sept. 29, 2010, Hurlburt Field, Fla. Captain Hood played college basketball at the Air Force Academy from 2002 through 2006 and after graduation played briefly with the NBA's Denver Nuggets. Captain Hood is assigned to the 919th Special Operations Wing and Mr. DeLagrana is a Miami Heat player development coach. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sheila deVera
 SAN ANTONIO (10/6/2010 - AFNS) -- The opportunity of a lifetime only comes once, or so we've been told. But for one U.S. Air Force Academy graduate, it came twice: once when he was accepted into the Academy and again when he realized his childhood dream of playing in the NBA. Capt. Antoine Hood, a reservist who divides his time between Hurlburt and Duke fields in Northwest Florida is the only Air Force Falcon to play in the NBA and is on his way to pursuing his dream once more.

Captain Hood got a glimpse of the NBA again when he was able to practice with the Miami Heat during their preseason training camp at Hurlburt Field.

But his ongoing journey hasn't been without hiccups.

"In high school, I didn't really get any playing time until my senior year, so I rode the bench from freshman to junior year," Captain Hood said. "I was averaging .3 points and .6 minutes per game. My senior year I got the opportunity to start, and I was one of the best players in Texas, ranked No. 72, and my team was number one in the state. It turned out to be a good year and I blossomed into a player, and from there the dream became a reality."

During that breakout year, a recruiter offered the then high school senior a full-ride scholarship to play basketball for the Academy. At the urging of his parents, he accepted the scholarship. Even though the Academy has been rated one of the "Best in the West" for its academic program, its basketball program wasn't so highly rated, which could be a stumbling block for an NBA hopeful.

"I wasn't a stranger to adversity, so that didn't intimidate me to say the least," Captain Hood said. "My parents always told me, 'it's not where
you are or where you go, it's what you do when you get there.' I kept that near and dear to my heart and I realized my freshman year, after we won only 12 games, which was still the most in school history since the 11200s, that that had to change."
Captain Hood decided it was time to step up his game, and after consulting with the Academy basketball coaching staff on what he needed to do to improve as a player, he began to work even harder.

"Antoine was a privilege to both play with and coach, and I have seen very few people grow as much as he did in such a short time," said AJ Kuhle, the Academy team military assistant from 2005 through 2007. "As a player, he always pushed himself and those around him to reach for the highest degree of excellence. He demanded and worked toward perfection each day on and off the court."

"I started putting in some hard work and focused as much as possible," he said. "It took hours in the gym. I used to break into the gym after hours. I would sneak in through the hockey door, through the girls' basketball locker room, whatever I had to do. I was determined (that any) spare time I had, I would be in the gym."

Captain Hood knew he couldn't change the direction of the team alone. Just as in the Air Force, it would take everyone doing their part to get the mission accomplished.

"My teammates would see me in the gym, and I would encourage them to come down more," Captain Hood said. "I would send out an e-mail (saying) 'let's go get some shots up,' and just created an environment that we needed to be doing something extra. In everything we go through at the Academy - all the anger, all the yelling - on a daily basis, we should have a chip on our shoulder and we should take it out on our opponent. And we kind of harvested as a mentality and protected our home court, and it became a lot more serious and it showed up in our game."

The team's record began to improve and the Falcons basketball team began getting national attention. That attention, in part, led to Captain Hood being offered a spot on the Denver Nuggets as a guard. He signed with the Nuggets for a year.

As a Denver Nugget, Capt. Hood shared the court with players he had admired as a young basketball player. He had finally stepped out of his dream and into the reality of it.

"It was a surreal feeling having a locker next to Carmello (Anthony), and these are guys (I) used to watch coming up," he said. "I was like 'Wow! I'm actually on the same court, throwing elbows and running suicides.'

"That was probably one of the most out-of-body experience feelings I've had in life," Captain Hood said. "Just playing against (Chauncey) Billups and Rasheed Wallace, it's just indescribable. When your dreams become a reality, you just have to catch yourself and realize you are on the same level as these people."

After the year was up, Captain Hood returned to the active-duty Air Force as a commissioned officer. As an Academy graduate, Captain Hood was obligated to fulfill his service commitment in return for the investment the Air Force had made in his education and career.

"I understood, and I definitely never ran away from any commitment that I've had in life," Captain Hood said. "No one made me go to the Academy and I knew what I was getting into from the jump. With the amount of time, money and education invested into me as an Academy grad, I can completely understand giving back my commitment to my service and my country."

Not being able to re-sign with an NBA team may have been a detour, but it definitely wasn't the end of the road.

In previous years, there had been policies in place that allowed Air Force athletes who were selected to compete at the professional level to be released after filling a portion of their service commitment. During the time Captain Hood was deemed eligible to go to the NBA, the policy wasn't in place. Now that he is a reservist, he is able to sign with an organization at any time.

"I'm ready to reinvent myself and ready to hit the ground running," the captain said.

On the road toward his dream, Captain Hood said he has gained leadership skills from being in both the Air Force and NBA.

"(There's) a direct parallel (between the two)," he said. "If everyone is doing their job on the team and taking care of their area, mastering their skills, the sky is the limit on how great a team you can be and the same is true with the Air Force.

"The hardest part of leadership in both arenas is delegating," Captain Hood said. "If I'm a point guard, I have to delegate responsibility to the center, and the day I tell a point guard how to do his job is the day I'm in trouble. You only want to step in when you have to step in, and that's when you know someone isn't performing to the standard you know they can or their outside lifestyle is affecting their performance at the job."

The lessons he learned from the Air Force have shaped him as an officer, a basketball player and a person.

"As clich´┐Ż as it sounds, integrity, service (before self) and excellence (in all we do), are still great molding qualities that a person of success should attain somewhere along their journey," Captain Hood said.

(Samuel King of the 919th Public Affairs office contributed to this story)

By USAF SSgt. Mareshah Haynes
Defense Media Activity
Copyright 2010

Reprinted from Air Force News Service

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