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Air Force men’s basketball returns to play after government shutdown

The Air Force men’s basketball team ate a pregame meal and watched film of Fresno State on Saturday morning before their scheduled game at the Academy. The federal government was shut down. Falcons coach Dave Pilipovich hoped his team would not meet the same fate.

By 11 a.m., though, it was official. No federal funding. No games.

“Not having the opportunity to play takes a little wind out of your sails,” Pilipovich said.

The 69-hour government shutdown lifted late Monday and Air Force announced about 9 p.m. that all NCAA activities would resume. So Pilipovich returned to practice Tuesday with his team before catching a flight for tomorrow’s game at Utah State. It’s been a strange several days.

“I was a little confused,” senior guard Jacob Van said. “I didn’t think not playing would be an option.”

The fathers of two senior guards, Trevor Lyons and CJ Siples, flew in for the game while the parents of freshman guard Keaton Van Soelen drove in from Iowa, Pilipovich said. They would have joined a crowd that’s averaged 1,611 through nine games at Clune Arena, but they instead turned around back home.

“Initially, I was pretty upset,” Van said. “If everyone’s here, why can’t we just suit up and play? But I guess there’s more to it.”

Pilipovich said he holed himself up in his office through much of the government shutdown. He did something typically out of character and turned on cable television to stay informed. Pilipovich remarked at how politicians simply “huddled up in groups” over and again to get it done: “They were probably getting pizza orders or something,” he joked. Pilipovich is also keenly aware that his program could once again be in flux with a new Feb. 8 deadline looming for another federal budget bill.

“Hopefully people who are a lot smarter than I am will get together and make the right decisions, so in case something comes about the same way we can move in a different direction at that time,” Pilipovich said.

The Mountain West has yet to announce plans for a makeup game, although Air Force and Fresno State are examining their schedules for mutual open dates late in the season before the conference tournament in Las Vegas (March 7-10). But it’s difficult to make any plans when the potential for a second shutdown looms just three weeks away.

“We trust our administration,” Pilipovich said. “They do the right things and we respect what they do for our us and we appreciate what they do for us. We’ll follow word and move forward with whatever their decision is.”

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