It’s the middle of March and the middle of the college basketball madness. 16 teams remain in the tournament field, but noticeably and expectedly absent from the brackets this year are our Naval, Military and Air Force academies. Though they don’t have the most prestigious basketball histories, these academies have seen some fine players and coaches come through their programs. Since their teams this year aren’t in the tournament, let’s take a look at the best team we can assemble from the entire history of our big three Division I military academies.
All-Military Basketball Team
Iconic hothead Bob Knight is most known for his success and temper as the head coach at Indiana and then Texas Tech. Knight actually enlisted in the Army in 1963 and became the head coach for the Army Black Knights as a 24-year-old in 1965. In his first collegiate head coaching position, Knight won 102 games in six years and is responsible for over half of Army’s postseason tournament appearances.
An undersized guard with a knack for putting up numbers, Army’s Kevin Houston is the only player from these three military academies to ever lead the NCAA in scoring for an entire season. Standing at just 5 foot 11 inches with a 165 pound frame, Houston averaged 32.9 points per game and was named the MAAC player of the year in his senior season of 1987. Houston also won the Haggerty Award, given to the best collegiate basketball player in the New York metropolitan area.
Better known as Coach K, the current legendary basketball coach at Duke, Kryrzewski got his start as a guard for Bob Knight’s West Point teams in the 1960s. Player K was a heady guard at the helm of several deep NIT runs. Upon completing his post-academy service, K returned to Knight as an assistant coach in his staff at Indiana. He moved on to coach his Army alma mater for 5 years, and from there went to Duke, where he’s been since 1980. In that time, K has led the Blue Devils to 12 Final Fours and 5 National Championships with the most recent one coming in 2015. His knowledge of the game provides the perfect compliment to our scorer at the other guard position.
What the academies might lack in historic basketball skill they make up for with their history of great coaches. But before Pop became one of the best coaches in basketball history as the head of the dynastic San Antonio Spurs, he was a fine player in 4 years for the Air Force Academy from 1966 to 1970. Popovich then spent 5 years of his active duty touring Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union with the United States Armed Forces team, and participated in the U.S. Olympic team trials in 1972.
Mike Silliman is the first and only member of the Army Black Knights to make the jump to the NBA as a player. Playing for the Army in the Bob Knight era, Silliman took his team to the NIT semi-finals in 1963, 1964, and 1965. He was an academic all-American and Knight considered him the best player he ever coached. Upon graduating in 1966, Silliman was Army’s all-time leading scorer and was subsequently selected 69th overall by the New York Knicks. He captained the U.S. Men’s National Basketball team to the gold medal in 1968’s Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Silliman would spend the 1970-71 season in a reserve role with the NBA’s Buffalo Braves, the only time a Black Knight has played in the NBA.
David “The Admiral” Robinson is the best player on this team, the best player with a military service history, and one of the best players to ever pick up a basketball. Robinson didn’t play organized basketball until he was a senior in high school, when he was awarded all-district honors. The Admiral followed in his father’s footsteps at the U.S. Naval Academy. At 6 foot 8 inches, Robinson was two inches taller than the height restriction for the Navy, but received a waiver from the Superintendent of the Navy. By the time he commissioned, Robinson had grew to 7 feet tall. He majored in mathematics, and would go on to the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade and was featured heavily in recruiting materials.
As a basketball player, Robinson led Navy to the Elite 8 in 1986 and received awards as the nation’s top college basketball player each of his last two seasons. Despite Robinson’s necessary years of service on the horizon, the San Antonio Spurs still selected him with the first overall pick in the 1987 NBA Draft. Upon completing his two years of active duty, Robinson joined the Spurs for the 1989-90 NBA season. From there, Robinson would make 10 All Star teams, win two Olympic gold medals (one while on 1992’s Dream Team) win 1995’s Most Valuable Player award, and win two NBA Championships, all while remaining in San Antonio. David Robinson alone means this starting five has a good chance against any opponent!