Baylor brought NCAA basketball back to Fort Hood for the third consecutive year on Saturday night.
In a crowded Abrams Gym, No. 23 Baylor faced the back-to-back NCCAA Men’s Basketball Division II National Champions Randall University for the second time in program history.
The game aired on Fox Sports Southwest and streamed for troops deployed overseas to watch as well.
“The fact that it’s a packed house, standing room only, you see how much the soldiers and their families appreciate this,” Col. James Koeppen, 36th Engineer Brigade commander, said.
“We’re near the holidays so you got a lot of families together right now but we also have a lot of families that are not together,” Koeppen said. “We have almost 7,000 soldiers that are deployed across the world. Things like this, Baylor coming down here and doing this for our soldiers, means a lot to us — the Fort Hood community and our families.”
Koeppen’s brigade is partnered with Waco and Baylor University, and work to connect with the Waco community, which allowed two of his soldiers to be court side for all the action.
“I’m really proud of my brigade,” Koeppen said. “And I know my soldiers are really excited. I really appreciate the opportunity they have to come out tonight.”
Each team had an honorary coach. Baylor’s being Spc. Tyler Woody of the 62nd Engineering Brigade and Randall’s was Spc. Delvon Henderson of the 20th Engineering Brigade.
“We didn’t do too, too much,” Henderson said, “but it was fun.”
This was Woody’s first NCAA game and he had a front row seat to all the action.
“Tt was a really good experience to get me into watching basketball,” he said.
While Baylor is used to playing at home in Ferrell Center or at various other universities’ gyms, Henderson was grateful that they made the trip from Waco to Fort Hood.
“It means a lot that they would take the time out of their busy schedules,” he said, “ and come to a small gym like Abrams to show their … big appreciation in a small way for the soldiers and all their families and what we do for the country.”
Woody echoed the sentiment.
“I think it means a lot to a lot of soldiers,” he said. “I know that there are a lot of units right now that are deployed that aren’t able to be here, but I know that it meant a lot to them that a big school like Baylor is coming down to play at our installation.”
Baylor brought the Bear show to the gym with cheerleaders, the dance team, in-game contests and, the crowd favorite, the T-shirt toss.
The shirts were in such high demand that a stampede of fans ran when they decided to give out free shirts in the last half of the game.
Timeouts saw crowd participants competing for Baylor gear with musical chairs that included making layups and a “Dress Like a Bear” contest, where two young fans raced to dress in Baylor basketball gear at different points on the court before making a shot.
Playing for the Troops
Baylor had home court advantage with the crowd, but Randall kept the score close in the first half, trailing by only 15 points at halftime.
Although they were miles from Oklahoma, the Saints were pulling out plays that impressed the crowd and gained them some fans cheering in the stands.
“It helped a lot,” junior guard Brad Ficken said. “Coming in, we didn’t think they’d be cheering for us, but to have them behind us, it really gave us a little more energy, especially on the court.”
“It definitely felt great to have the crowd behind us,” senior forward Ben Collier said. “We’re just happy to be there.”
The opportunity to play in the game was extra special for Collier because of his family connection to the military.
“My grandpa’s a veteran,” Collier said, “so it was just great to play in front of the crowd and we just respect everybody that came out and supported us tonight.”
For Baylor, they were excited for the opportunity to play on post yet again and extend their record to 3-0 in Abrams Gym, winning 105-82.
“Mission accomplished,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said. “Won the game, no one got injured, it was a great cause and great purpose.”
Drew noted that his team was feeding off the crowd energy and focused more on entertaining those in attendance with their offensive plays, but he wasn’t too worried as this game was more than just about basketball.
“Fort Hood does an unbelieveable job serving our country and allows us all to be able to be secure over the holidays,” Drew said. “To be able to say thank you and be able to provide a little entertainment for the people here, that the people abroad are able to watch, that’s a real honor for us.”
Although this game was about giving back, the Bears felt it was really their treat to come on post and be able to play for everyone who packed into the gym.
“Honestly, it was fun playing out here,” Baylor senior forward Nuni Omot said. “I know some of these people, their parents aren’t here, they’re deployed working across seas. It was fun to play in front of them. They don’t get the chance to watch college basketball, so I thought it was an honor to come down here and play for them.”
Baylor dedicated this game, and the win, to the troops as a small gesture of their gratitude.
“I always look forward to this game just because it’s an honor,” junior guard King McClure said. “These people, they fight for our freedom, they fight for our ability to do this and it’s an honor to be able to go out there and dedicate this game to them.
“I love coming here, I love playing for them and I love just playing hard for them to say thank you,” he added. “We can really never thank them enough for what they do for us, but it’s a small token we can give to them to show our appreciation, so I love this game.”
As for Woody and Henderson, they both appreciated the opportunity to see basketball from the other side.
“It was a really good feeling,” Woody said, “I got to see all of the good plays-”
“Well, winning side you say that,” Henderson added.
“It’s true, Baylor did win,” Woody said with a laugh.
Despite what the scoreboard read, Henderson believes he still won, too, because he gained insight that will help him as he’s a member of the All-Army basketball team.
“It’s good to see the coaches’ strategies and adjustments they make in game,” he said. “Being an actual player, I haven’t actually sat on a bench for an entire game and seen the adjustments that coaches make, the things that they see, the things that they go through throughout the time. I’ve seen the parts that I’m included in, so it was good to see the different side of basketball.”
After the game settled and Baylor set up to sign autographs for fans, Woody and Henderson were appreciative for the entire experience.
“I’d like to thank my leadership for allowing me this opportunity,” Woody said.
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