How a preseason exhibition game with a self-funded military basketball program gives players shot at soldering on.
McChord, Washington — When the expansion Seattle Super Hawks step on the basketball court on Saturday afternoon at the Soldier Field House it won’t be for any old preseason contest in The Basketball League. It will be against guys defending their country and their home court.
For Joint Base Lewis-McChord service members stationed south of Tacoma, Saturday’s game is the culmination of tough training sessions and tryouts led by head coach Lemija “Meha” Allen, of the 46th Aviation Support Battalion, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade. The JBLM Basketball team consists of 14 players, coached by Allen and James Rahaem, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne). A training and mobilization center for all services originally constructed in 1917 as Fort Lewis, Joint Base Lewis–McChord is the only Army power projection base west of the Rocky Mountains in the Continental United States. It’s only fitting then that a collection of US Army soldiers and US Air Force air men will bring the energy against head coach Eldridge Recasner and the Super Hawks.
“I might seem a little intense during tryouts and training, but I feel that I owe it to these players,” Allen said in an interview with Pamela Sleezer.
“I spend about three weeks planning and putting together drills and exercises before tryouts even begin. I believe it brings a level of confidence to come into the situation prepared and serious because that is what I expect of them.”
Watching the expansion Super Hawks form and come into existence over the offseason, Allen’s word’s and motivation sound vaguely familiar. As Allen attested to, he put together a JBLM basketball program rooted in a profound love for basketball. After arriving at Joint Base Lewis-McChord back in February 2020, the start of the basketball program was initially delayed by COVID protocols, but that changed last March when Allen took matters into his own hands, and bank account. With the military no longer funding varsity sports programs, Coach Allen dipped into his own pocket to fund the program.
Now Coach Allen is tasked with molding a group of infantrymen, battalion leaders, and squadron fliers into a cohesive team on the floor.
“This is very important to me because basketball is what kept me in the Army, and I know first-hand the positive effects it can have on a Soldier,” Allen continued.
The game tips-off at 5:00 pm and is free to watch for anyone with base access. Prior to the game, fans will also have the chance to meet and greet the Seattle Super Hawks who are coming off of training camp in Kirkland.
Wendell Maxey is the author of Around The Basketball League and has written about professional basketball and sports for 19 years. He’s been featured on NBA.com, ESPN.com, USA Today, FOX Sports, and SLAM Magazine among other publications and media outlets. You can connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn or read through his archive on Linktree.