William “Jerry” Clardy, a master sergeant who works at both Joint Base Lewis-McChord and the Washington Army National Guard, is scheduled to retire after April 13. However, he hopes part of his exit from 23 years in the military includes winning the third annual Hoops 4 Heroes basketball exhibition March 8 at Pierce College-Fort Steilacoom in Lakewood.
Organized by the Captain Meriwether Lewis Chapter of the Association of the United States Army, the game is being billed as Soldiers vs. First Responders. Clardy is again the coach for a team of service members from JBLM, Washington Army National Guard and Washington Air National Guard.
While the game is all in good fun, both teams still want to win on the hard court.
“Pertaining to the basketball game, we’re all Type A personalities,” Clardy said. “We all compete and we want to win. That’s been ingrained as part of our training.”
Clardy held the first team practice Saturday at Steilacoom High School. Six players attended the first practice.
The coach expects to see the turnout improve at the practices that will be scheduled every Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon before the big game. Clardy said he would like to see more service members and veterans try out for one of the 12 roster spots.
“Obviously you want the best players, but the people who consistently show up are going to play,” Clardy said.
The previous two games have attracted large crowds and have not disappointed fans. In 2016, the military team came from behind to win 60-53 inside the SHS gym.
“A great defensive play can lead to a great offensive play,” said Lafonzo Betts, a sergeant with 4th Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, who played last year. “You try to stop that long pass, you try to stop that quick bucket, try to create a turnover and drain the clock a little bit.”
Clardy also went over a few offensive plays with the team based on inbounding the ball, coming from the other end and following up on a defensive turnover. He also explained his desire for them to not be too dependent on shooting from behind the three-point arc.
Instead, Clardy wants his players to shoot wherever they can find the best shot.
“I’d rather take two (points) than none,” Clardy said during an offensive drill. “Long (missed) threes mean long rebounds, and long rebounds mean fast breaks (for them).”
The players who have experienced one of the previous two exhibitions are looking forward to playing in front of a passionate basketball crowd. Christian Gabriel, a sergeant first class, 898th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 81st Brigade, who came from the Yakima Training Center for practice, said he learned quick on how much people in the Pacific Northwest love the sport.
“The amount of people who showed up and that energy definitely speaks to the basketball culture up here,” Gabriel said. “It’s a quiet culture. We have the talent here. We have the presence here.”
Service members who are interested in trying out at an upcoming practice and have questions, they can call Clardy at 253-370-3113 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.