Wednesday, February 22, 2006

By DinoCosta
February 22, 2006
While there is a general sense of mediocrity going on at the Pepsi Center this season with George Karl's Nuggets - things are much different 45 miles down I-25 in Colorado Springs, with Denver's former head coach.
Jeff Bzdelik is on the verge of leading the Falcons to the most wins in school history, and the very real possibility that an NCAA Tournament invitation could be in the offing.
Tonight The Force won their 22nd game of the season - downing New Mexico 51-46 at Clune Arena.
Air Force has matched the previous school record of 22 wins set back in the 2003 season.
This Saturday the Falcons can set a school record with their 23rd regular season victory if they can beat UNLV at home.
With San Diego State losing at BYU tonight, the Falcons have closed to within a single game of the Mountain West Conference lead. The
Falcons are 10-4 in conference play.
Anyone see Nick Welch lately? Of course not, at least not on the basketball court.
Welch is a terrific player and would have been a strong candidate to win MWC player of the year honors if he could have played this year. But Welch has missed the previous 27 Air Force games...and still the Falcons are 22-5.
How'd this happen?  Where did they come from?  Who expected this?
Just a few people.
Jeff Bzdelik.
And his players.
Bzdelik was cast adrift and thrown out of the Pepsi Center like yesterday's news when the Nuggets foolishly let him go.
Not enough people got to know Bzdelik here while he was in Denver - in fact most of the local press here treated Bzdelik like they knew more about basketball than he did.
If George Karl happens to think that my questions to him following Nuggets losses are too direct - then he should have been around here when Bzdelik was peppered with one outrageous question after another while he was coaching the Nuggets.
The difference however, was in how Bzdelik would patiently answer each and every question posed to him - how he would ignore the digs thrown his way with consistency - and still maintain the dignity and class that has always defined Jeff Bzdelik.
Bzdelik, just like George Karl, has forgotten more about basketball than I or anyone else who covers the Nuggets will ever know. But Bzdelik didn't and doesn't carry the holier than thou personality that has come to define Karl in each of his NBA job stops.
Bzdelik lacked the necessary support from the Nuggets general manager, as well as from the owner Stan Kroenke, when he was with the Nuggets.
I can relate.
Folks if you don't have the support of the general manager, the district manager, the supervisor, or in my case, the program director, then eventually you'll run into trouble that will result in a breach - which causes you to be looking for work somewhere else sooner rather than later.
However Bzdelik has all the support in the world at Air Force.
He's respected and admired as a man who knows the game of basketball inside and out - and his opinion is given more than just cursory consideration.
Had the Nuggets been smart enough to realize they had a more than capable head coach when Bzdelik was there -  the chances are good that Denver would be many more games over the .500 mark than the mere 3 they are right now.
Then again, Bzdelik would have insisted that his team play two way basketball...and with this current Nugget bunch you have seen that playing defense most night's is an optional exercise.
Bzdelik has good kids on his Air Force squad, kids who are enthusiastic about playing for him - and have played for him very well in close games.
Air Force with their win tonight is now 6-2 in games decided by less than 5 points.
That's a mark of good coaching.
Air Force comes into games well prepared, they execute most nights, and have shaken off losses to come back strong the next game all season long.
It's been a very good year for Bzdelik and the Falcons.
Undefeated at home.
A 12 game winning streak earlier this season.
The first team in the MWC to ever defeat an ACC team - as The Force defeated Georgia Tech earlier this season 54-46.
They swept both games against pre-season conference favorite Utah.
They split their season series with current conference leader San Diego State, who on paper, have much more talent AND size, than Bzdelik's Falcons do.
Two games left in the regular season.
UNLV at home.
CSU in Ft. Collins.
24 wins?
Holy Macaroni.
Not too many other schools around the country have as many victories as Air Force this season - look around for yourself.
San Diego State, despite their loss tonight, will probably hang on and win the MWC, with games remaining at home against Wyoming - and then with South Dakota State.
The Aztecs should clinch.
However they're no lock to win the conference tournament.
Talk about sweet irony?
Starting March 9, the MWC Tournament tips off at of all places...The Pepsi Center, in Denver.
Bzdelik's former home.
How satisfying do you think it would be for Bzdelik to win that tournament - and to cement a spot in the March Madness 64 team dance at the same that building?
No Nick Welch?
No problem, he'll probably be back next season.
So will Jeff Bzdelik - who obviously has a much more difficult time recruiting quality players to the Air Force Academy for reasons you should be able to figure out for yourself.
However if I'm the parent of a high school senior though, there aren't too many other names I can think of that I would rather hand my son off to than to a guy like Jeff Bzdelik.
He's a decent man.
He's a winning basketball coach.
Denver will see him again.

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Mr Costa,

My name is Nick and I am also a sports blogger. My site is dedicated to the Denver Nuggets. I am a fan of your show and your style. I'm breaking through in sports journalism and I was wondering if I could ask you some questions. You can find my email my profile at my blog.

My site is The Nugg Doctor :

Check it out if you have a minute.

PS: Did you ever work in the Atlantic Baseball League?
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