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The Storm Poised to Sweep This Season

Airman First Class Caleb Chandler (left), 61st Medical Group, drives the lane against defenders from Travis Air Force Base during the championship final game. Los Angeles AFB sponsored the 2009 Veterans Day "SoCal Shootout" Basketball Tournament on Nov. 7 and 8, which included participation from Luke AFB, Travis AFB, Vandenberg AFB, and Edwards AFB. The LA Storm won the championship title with an 80 to 77 victory over Travis. (Photo by Atiba Copeland)

Airman First Class Caleb Chandler (left), 61st Medical Group, drives the lane against defenders from Travis Air Force Base during the championship final game. Los Angeles AFB sponsored the 2009 Veterans Day "SoCal Shootout" Basketball Tournament on Nov. 7 and 8, which included participation from Luke AFB, Travis AFB, Vandenberg AFB, and Edwards AFB. The LA Storm won the championship title with an 80 to 77 victory over Travis. (Photo by Atiba Copeland)

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The 6th Annual Nellis Armed Forces Basketball Classic from Feb. 12 to 15 in Las Vegas is forecast to see The Storm coming through, in a manner of speaking.

Nicknamed "The Storm," the men's Los Angeles Air Force Base basketball team consists of military, civilian and contractor personnel assigned throughout the Los Angeles area. Being the reigning, back-to-back champions, The Storm is set to defend its title against perennial heavyweight teams from the western region and again claim the tournament's unprecedented third title.

"Setting our goal to win this increasingly popular tournament is definitively within our reach," said Coach Damion Byrd, a recruiter with the 360th Recruiting Squadron in Encino, Calif. "Our team has a healthy mix of youth and experience, including veterans and newcomers. Three of our players are all Air Force candidates. Above all, we've been playing like a true team."

"The team's unity and chemistry was the major factor and perhaps "our biggest strength" propelling The Storm to several important accomplishments early half of this season that lays a strong foundation to finish the campaign strongly," said Coach Byrd.

The Storm opened its season in the Pacific West Military Basketball League at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twenty-nine Palms. Despite the absences of Coach Byrd and Guard Joel Gardner, 61st Air Base Wing Financial Management Office, due to temporary duty assignments, the team won all three games to start undefeated for the first time in recent memory.

The Storm then hosted teams from Edwards, Travis, Vandenberg AFB, Calif. and Luke AFB, Ariz., at home in the LA AFB Veteran's Day Shootout in November. The Storm systematically destroyed them by an average of 25 points per game on the way to the championship game.

"Against an inspired Travis team, the game was uncomfortably close for us considering the level of play we performed earlier," said Coach Byrd. The Storm held on to win the game and tournament.

Injuries and uneven plays befell The Storm with early losses to Edwards and Miramar teams during league play. As a testament to its resilience, The Storm came back strong with three wins to close the season with an overall 14-2 record and finishing first in their division.

"Our game plan has and will always be to defend, rebound and run in that order," said Coach Byrd. "We play very intense pressure defense and execute our offensive sets really well when forced to do so. Of the fourteen players we have, nine have been together two years or more, and the five new players have blended in seamlessly this season. We're united by the love of basketball and the pursuit of 'gold.'"

Besides the Vegas Classic tournament, the team also sets its sight on winning the league playoff held at Camp Pendleton, Calif., March 13 and 14, on its way to compete in a new tournament formed by the commissioners of four military leagues across the United States. This new tournament, to be held April 9 to 11 in San Antonio, Texas, will feature the leagues' top two teams.

"I believe that with the talent we have this year, we have a great opportunity to continue our success this season," said Forward/Center Michael Evans, 61st Air Base Wing Safety Office. "We are one big family that has true love for the game of basketball and one another. One of our mottos is, 'We All We Got.' Coach Byrd has created a great foundation for us over the past couple years, and he's made us believers that the sky is the limit for our team."