SAN DIEGO - Antoine Hood fouled out of his final collegiate game. The Air Force senior guard, who epitomizes what it is to be a Falcons player, was out on the perimeter defending an Illinois guard when the fifth foul came. Just 3.2 seconds remained on the clock in the Falcons’ 78-69 loss to the Illini, yet there was Hood near the half-court line of the Cox Arena floor hustling his way for a possible steal. That wasn’t the ending Hood wanted to his career. But it was perfect nonetheless. Hood was out there fighting when the fight was already over. Academy generals have to love that attitude. “It’s been a great ride,” Hood said, before shaking his head and immediately commenting on his final game. “We were one, two stops away from winning this game.” That’s Hood. Always finding the positive, even in defeat. Always fighting, even when all practical reasons for fighting have been vanquished. But you’d be foolish to expect any less from a 6-foot-4, barely 200-pounder with enough self-confidence to truly believe he’s going to play in the NBA someday. But, that’s Hood. Since 2002, nobody on the Falcons roster has endured as much as Hood. Nobody had played as hard as Hood or has given more than Hood. Where would the Falcons be without him? “Oh wow,” junior guard Matt McCraw said. “Not here. No. Not here. Antoine brings it all. If he communicates, everyone else communicates. Antoine is like a trendsetter with us. He’s just great to have around.” Added Falcons guard Dan Nwaelele: “He has always been there when you’ve needed help. He has always known the type of words to say in the current situation. He’s been one of the best teammates I’ve ever had.” Hood led the Falcons with 17 points and six assists against Illinois. And as Hood said, the Falcons were a couple of stops from winning the game. The problem is that the Falcons were always a couple of stops away. Illinois, as any good team would do, countered every Falcons run. In the end, the Illini had too many weapons, and the Falcons erred too many times. In some ways, the Falcons’ problems Thursday were selfinflicted. The Illinois defensive pressure was intensive, but it was nothing that appeared to rattle the Falcons. A bad Hood pass on the baseline led to a missed opportunity. Tim Anderson bounced a ball off his foot, which led to another missed opportunity. Illinois always found a way to make the Falcons pay for the mistakes. Illinois was able to overcome its mistakes. The Falcons didn’t. Call them miscues or frazzled nerves from being on college basketball’s biggest stage. Or simply call them blunders. But they were the reason the Falcons’ season and Hood’s career ended Thursday. Hood, believe him or not, said he always believed that the Falcons would receive an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. Hood believed in his abilities and the talents of Mc-Craw, Nwaelele, John Frye and the rest of the Air Force prep school players he helped. Led by Hood, the Falcons proved that they belonged in this tournament. “His passion, his dedication, his energy is very contagious,” Falcons coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “We’re going to miss Antoine because he has that quality that’s so contagious to everyone.” Replacing Hood won’t be easy. But, there was an Air Force bench full of juniors, sophomores and freshmen who saw their leader fight to the end. To find a replacement for Hood, start with that. Columnist Milo F. Bryant can be reached at 636-0252 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Colorado Springs Gazette has disabled the comments for this article.