Competition: The Lifelong Saga

LT. CALVIN WHITE, SC, USN, OPERATIONAL SUPPORT OFFICER;
NAVSUP FLEET LOGISTICS CENTER PEARL HARBOR

Lt. Calvin White

Growing up, I did not play basketball. My sport was baseball and I was great at it. To this day, I still miss fielding a grounder to second base or turning a double play. I would soon realize though that life has its way of forcing you to choose your fate. The moment I moved to Hoosier country, my life took a turn toward basketball. It is a glorious sport, where five players on each team meet on the hardwood to see who is better at putting an orange ball into an orange hoop. It is an epic tale of strength, precision, energy, and heart. Other than the military, there is not another team sport that compares in my opinion. I have been drawn into its depths since and I have gladly accepted its addiction.

Through my 18-year basketball career, I have had setbacks and successes, but nothing compares to playing all four years at a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 1 School – the United States Naval Academy (USNA). I will always look to find that same feel of the strength of the opponents, the speed of the game, the bleakness of a loss, and the ultimate euphoria of a well-earned win. Nobody, however, can ever prepare you for what happens after graduation. There are no more tournaments or games, coaches or recruits for most athletes out of college. It is a tough pill to swallow, but we make it work with open gyms, local tournaments, and base teams … but, it isn’t the same. It was not until 2013, when I first played in the Armed Forces Basketball Tournament, that I realized the military can fill that hole that was left after graduating college. The coaches for all the services recruit the best players in their respective service and bring them to one location for a college-level tournament that proves which service is better. This … this is the competition I have been missing.

The selection process is like most others where you apply and provide specifics on what your basketball career has looked like and what you do in your service. The coaches pick the top 20 applications and fly them out to participate in a 10-day camp to whittle the number down to 12 ballers. The two practices a day, about three to four hours each, are exceptionally hard. Once those 12 players are named, it is a mad dash to get the team to meld before the tournament. The tournament consists of the four Defense Department branches (Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, Air Force, and Army), and is set up where we all play each other twice over the course of seven days. The top two records play for a gold medal!

Fortunately, I was granted permission to play again this past year in 2016 by Capt. Ken Epps of NAVSUP Fleet Logistics Center Pearl Harbor. At the age of 32, basketball becomes more of a mental game than athleticism due to wear and tear from the years before. I showed up ready to go at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling to battle with 20 other Navy selectees for one of the 12 spots on the team.

We all knew what was at stake as Air Force has won the championship for eight years in a row now, and we looked to unseat them from their throne. In order to do that, we needed to beat Army and USMC in the process. Our first game against Army was a battle from the jump ball, and unfortunately we lost 74-79.

Over the subsequent six days, we played Air Force (lost 72-79), USMC (won 73-58), Army (lost 58-69), Air Force (won 70-64), USMC (won 81-67), and battled it out for the 3rd Place game against USMC (won 71-67). The one game that stood out over all of them was our win against Air Force. We were trailing for nearly 30 minutes before we took the lead with eight minutes to go. We were up nine with 14 seconds left, and Air Force was at the free throw line.

All we had to do was win by eight points to secure our spot in the championship game against Army. This is due to the double round-robin format and tie breakers, that are based on who won by more points. For us, we only needed eight; it could have been seven with some good karma thrown our way. However eight points would make it official! We knew we had it, especially when the Air Force player missed both free throws! However, they tipped the rebound to the corner and their shooter was fouled. He hit all three free throws to put us up by only six points. I do not know if I could ever explain how lost or angry I felt that we missed the championship by a single bucket. It was the worst feeling to have won a game but still lose at the same time.

At the end of it all, Army took the championship and went undefeated while we took third place with our first winning record in nearly 10 years. As much as it hurts to not be the top dog, it was overshadowed by the fact that I can still play basketball and that the Navy has given me the opportunity to fulfill my craving for elite competition while still serving. It is something that I will never forget.

Go Navy! Beat Army!

Lt. Calvin E. White earned his commission from the USNA, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Economics. He was redesignated as a Full Time Support Supply Corps officer (3107) in October 2008, and reported to Navy Supply Corps School in Athens, Georgia in December of 2008.

May/June 2017