From milk crates to medallions: 100th SFS Airmen learn life-lessons from basketball

  • Published
  • By Karen Abeyasekere
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Growing up poor meant having to create, rather than buy, most things. For one boy who loved basketball, that meant making his own hoop.

"So, what we did was go to the corner store, get milk crates then cut the bottoms out, nail (them) to a tree and use them as hoops," said Airman 1st Class Jazz Williams, 100th Security Forces Squadron patrolman from Columbus, Ga.

"It was so bad sometimes, we would start where there was a patch of grass and about two weeks later, it was just pure dirt from us just playing so much," the 22-year-old said. "That's how it all started for me. We would play before school, and would have clean clothes on, but before we even got to school we'd be all sweaty, just because we were outside playing basketball on the crate, waiting for the school bus. After school, we'd play all the time as well."

Growing up, basketball was Williams' life.

"It made me feel like anything was possible," he said. "I would go outside and play basketball with my friends; at that age, we really had no idea of legitimate career fields. The only thing we wanted to be was an NBA player; Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady - I looked up to them when I was a kid."

Watching his heroes play basketball gave Williams hope for the future, and fueled his dreams.

"It made me feel like the sky was the limit; no matter what happened that day, when I picked up the basketball it washed all my worries away - when I was on the court, nothing else mattered; it would just take you away to another place," Williams said.

Another 100th SFS patrolman, Jarius Wimberly, has also grown up playing basketball. Now 23, the Senior Airman has played basketball since 9th grade.

"I used to play on the weekends and all the older guys would be on the court playing," Wimberly said. "I was just starting to grow up and get a little height; playing them, they wouldn't let me have anything. Every time I'd go to shoot, they'd block it in my face or they'd talk a little trash. Pretty soon I just got tired of losing."

Wimberly would often ask his high school coach for the key to the gym so he could practice basketball.

At the start of his 10th grade year, the coach refused to let him play junior varsity, instead encouraging him to move straight to varsity because he was such a great shooter.

"I couldn't dribble, I could just shoot," he said.

As time went on, Wimberly said his coach told him he had to start developing another part of his game.

"The whole summer was spent learning how to dribble; after that, I had to learn (lay-ups)," he said. "Then it was time to play against the older guys, and I started to see the work I was doing was starting to pay off - I was getting better than them!"

In his senior year, a few colleges started looking at Wimberly's game. Unfortunately, he didn't get to go much further with that. However, he joined the Air Force and was able to pursue different dreams.

He'd always wanted to travel, and Wimberly finally got his wish. Before being stationed here, the 100th SFS Airman was stationed in Turkey.

In a likewise decision, Williams also ended up joining the military, the right choice for him.

"I was afraid; I didn't know what path I wanted to take as far as a career," he said. "Basketball fell through; the colleges I wanted didn't pick me up and I was scared."

Williams didn't have the money to go to school without a scholarship, and didn't want to end up as another broke college student, eating noodles and bologne. So he decided to join the military.

"The Air Force has given me a sense of direction on life," Williams said. "Since being in the military, I've learned nothing comes easy - hard work beats talent any day; when talent fails, you need to work hard. You control your own destiny, whether in the military or any other job - if you want something and you work hard enough, you can get it."

Wimberly has also learned life-lessons since becoming a service member.

"Before I joined, I didn't do anything. I thought being in the military was going to be easy and that everything would be given to you, but it was the complete opposite. And I've had a chance to see many different countries, which I wouldn't have been able to do otherwise."

Since being stationed at RAF Mildenhall and playing basketball for their squadron and base teams, the two patrolmen's feet practically haven't touched the ground.

The 100th SFS team recently won the Team Mildenhall intramural basketball championship, and beat the 48th Force Support Squadron in the RAF Mildenhall vs RAF Lakenheath intramural competition.

Williams and Wimberly were also on the Eagles basketball team, a joint team made up of service members from both bases. The Eagles recently brought home the trophy and gold medals when they won the U.S. Air Forces in Europe/Installation Management Command-Europe Basketball Championship in March in Stuttgart, Germany.

They played against 14 other teams from the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps in the biggest sporting event in the European theater, with teams from Spain, Turkey, Italy and Germany.

While both men have retained their love of basketball, they still see the importance of having an education and a back-up plan.

Wimberly has traveled back home since joining the Air Force, and his high school coach has asked him to speak with students when he's been home.

"I tell them, 'You have basketball now, but you can only lean on that for so much," Wimberly continued. "Whatever you're doing now in high school, make sure you keep your classes up and GPA at a certain level, because yes, you can use basketball to get to college, but not everyone is built for the NBA. Get your education."