Captain John C. Toomay, a regular Air Force officer with eight years of service, is a communications and electronics specialist at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. His is a name that should linger—quite apart from his accomplishments in his profession—in some of the more unofficial Air Force histories. For the captain, in addition to his regular duties, is the coach of the Andrews basketball team which this year racked up an unprecedented 43 straight wins.
This record was not accomplished without stiff opposition. The Rockets now stand at the top of a list of some 250 Air Force "varsities," and they also won two from Quantico, the pride of the Marines and scored victories in exhibition games with highly touted college teams such as George Washington, Maryland, Richmond, and a Dick Ricketts-less Duquesne.
The remarkable success of Andrews can only be partially attributed to Captain Toomay's coaching skill—in fact, the good captain would be the first to admit that the Andrews five is powered by some of the Air Force's finest engines found outside an F-86. Only one of the eight top men on the team was not a college star. The five starters include two All-Americas, Cliff Hagan of Kentucky and Dick Knostman of Kansas State and the Syracuse Nationals. Also present are Bob Rousey of Kansas State, Wally Ziemba of Wayne University, and Lou Tsioropoulos of Kentucky, who last year along with Hagan and Frank Ramsey, now with the Boston Celtics, sparked Kentucky to first place in national ranking and an undefeated season in 25 games.
For substitutes Andrews relies mainly on Dick Goelzer of Bradley; George Phillips who never played varsity ball in college and a fellow named Toomay. The latter starred for the College of the Pacific and bounced around professional basketball with the now defunct Washington Capitols, Chicago Stags and Baltimore Bullets between World War II and the Korean conflict.
March 21, 1955
Andrews uses its small guards, Ziemba and Rousey, to bring the ball down the middle while the big men hustle down the sides to meet the ball under the hoop. In addition the well-drilled Andrews team can pull any one of 72 offensive patterns out of its cap to meet a given situation.
The efficacy of the Andrews system can be shown with a few statistics. During the regular season the Rockets, playing under college rules, averaged 95 points a game and in 14 contests scored over 100. Hagan was high scorer averaging 22 points a game. The team as a whole hit on a highly creditable 47% of its shots.
Possibly even more impressive than statistics are the sad-eyed comments of opponents. Bill Reinhart, coach of George Washington University which lost twice to Andrews, remarked: "If they have a weakness, they never bring it with them." A Marine officer, asked about the pace of the Andrews offense, added wistfully: "Sometimes the two points come slower than usual but they always come."
Andrews' only real failures were three preseason practice games which they dropped to the Minneapolis Lakers. Since Air Force regulations limit personnel to 6 feet 6 inches (Hagan is 6 feet 4 inches, Knostman 6-feet-6, Tsioropoulos 6-feet-5), the men of Andrews could not handle the professional giants. "They just pounded us to death," says Toomay.
Andrews, in the words of Toomay, obviously "has a plethora of talent." It did not just happen that way, of course, but neither was it a matter of frenetic recruiting.
Somebody with authority at Andrews decided it would be nice to have a powerhouse in basketball. As command base for the Military Air Transport Service, Andrews has the authority to request transfer to it of any man in the Air Force so long as two conditions are met: there must be a job open for him and the man must indicate that he wants to transfer. In addition, any ROTC second lieutenants going on active duty may state where they prefer to be stationed. By these legal and irreproachable methods alone Andrews has picked up its top-flight team.
All of the players hold down conventional Air Force jobs. Hagan is a public information officer, Tsioropoulos the base athletic officer; Knostman serves in the reserve officers affairs section, Rousey is a supply officer, and Ziemba like Toomay is a communications specialist. Toomay, incidentally, has no problems in handling his stars; the starters are all lieutenants. "I pull rank incessantly," smiles the captain.
The only flaw in the Andrews basketball future is that the members of the team will eventually go back to civilian life. But Captain Toomay and Rocket supporters can take heart. As long as there is a draft law the supply of All-Americas should be plentiful.