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Lady Hawks take to the skies

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- If he quit cold turkey I think he might die.

Like the simple need for food or for oxygen, this man requires his sports fix to keep it all together. And while I'll steer away from saying he's outright addicted to the activity, it's apparent he could never give it up. But thankfully -- for all parties -- nobody is asking him to do that.

So now, nine years in to his Lady Hawks coaching career, Carlos Hopkins is attached to the sport even more -- dug in with it like a war-hardened battle buddy.

With his history as a life-long player, it's the coaching that's been front and center for him these past years. And it's fanning the flames even higher.

"To be honest with you, it's basketball night-and-day. I eat, sleep and drink it," Hopkins says, while parked on the sidelines of a Lady Hawks practice, conveniently close to that life-giving hardwood. "I just felt like I knew enough about the game of basketball that I could pass that on to other people and help them enjoy the game that I love because this is my life."

And there's no doubt that Hopkins has the experience to pass on to the next generation. To say Hopkins is the Michael Jordan of Tinker Hawks basketball probably wouldn't be an overstatement. After all, he's practically a household name in the Gerrity Fitness and Sports Center lore. And, he's reached this benchmark for two simple reasons: consistency and time. The year was 1987 when Hopkins first stepped on to the Gerrity court as a men's Hawks player. And, until this year, he was an active player on the team. He wore both hats: player and coach. He was out there on any given weekend, driving toward the basket with the men, and then changing into coaching garb for his role with the women's team. All in a day's work.

Are you sensing the addiction yet?

"You have to like that you're a household name kind of," Hopkins says. "Of all the people who have come through here, I've pretty much outlasted everyone. I met guys who had come in and went somewhere else and then they came back and I'm still here and they're like 'you're still here!'"

Consistency and time. Consistency and time.

But Hopkins has some trophies on the wall from other places too. He was chosen two times (1992 and 1993) for the All Air Force basketball team, slating his name among some of the Wild Blue Yonder's finest.

The 42-year-old, 6-foot 6-inch forward-center also played on several local college teams in the Oklahoma City area during his 16 years stationed at Tinker as an Airman. These are experiences he holds close and cherishes his hardwood history.

But these days it's all about the Lady Hawks. The squad is the sole object of his basketball dependence now.

"I want them to be comfortable with each other and believe that what we're doing is going to yield us success," Hopkins says. "When we come out and practice one thing we have to do is make ourselves accountable.

"We have some talented women on this team, some women who have played college ball. Renada (Sims), she played at Wichita State University; Druana (Sanders), she played at Oklahoma Christian University; and Sarah (Trousset), she had a chance to play at Rose State College when they had a women's team."

Hopkins is very simple about the expectations for his players. It's a no-nonsense ratio equation. And it's clear he's not on the sidelines to pad his resumé. He's there for others.

"Whatever you want to get out of it then you put the work in to it, that's my philosophy," he says. "I play this game because I enjoy playing it. I don't come out here looking for personal accolades, I already have personal accolades and I don't need anymore."

And he's not alone in his endeavors. Last season, assistant Michelle Wagoner stepped in as head coach following the untimely death of a close friend of Hopkins'. She took the reins in full for the remainder of that season, and hasn't left the team sidelines since, except for a current TDY deployment in-country.

But while the focus is pointedly on preparing for the season at hand, Hopkins has an ulterior motive in coaching the Tinker women, and he's having some success at it.

"Our job is to get one of these ladies interested in going out for that All Air Force team. That's one of my goals as a coach to get somebody where they feel comfortable trying out for that team," Hopkins says.

One such Tinker player took the challenge this past January, and traveling to Colorado Springs for the several-day tryout, put it all on the line for a shot at representing the Silver and Blue.

"Alicia Roberts went to the All Air Force camp last year and she has matured a lot as a basketball player," Hopkins says. "She took the challenge, went out there and represented Tinker well. She is our top defender, she will stick to somebody like glue."

This season, as the Lady Hawks hit the court, they're looking to be a formidable squad to beat. The 13-player team is boasting five new players and Hopkins is excited for what the ladies will accomplish in the weeks ahead.

"We finished the season last year very strong and won a major tournament down at Fort Sam Houston, Texas," Hopkins says. "I want us to duplicate that effort. We have new people but that doesn't matter because these people who are here are willing to accept the roles they've been given to make the team better."

Hopkins recalls what basketball meant to him throughout the years. He hopes his Lady Hawks find a similar focus to ensure they're bringing their best to the court and their teammates each week.

"It's something I could focus on. A focal point to keep me out of trouble keep me focused on my job," Hopkins says. "If I knew I wanted to be out here I did whatever I had to do for my job to get out here and play ball."

At the finale it's the love of the game that does it. And as Hopkins made that all-too-common shift in focus from self to self-less in becoming a coach, he's assuring that the sport he has a singular devotion to will thrive for generations to come.

"I just love it, it's a comfort zone," Hopkins says. "When I get out here I'm not worried about the bills or anything else. I'm just in the zone of basketball."