Sprink grows into his game playing at Navy
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Sprink grows into his game playing at Navy

AFAN: Air Force, Army, Navy newsletter on All-American basketball player Greg Sprink

Photo: Greg Sprink

A look back at my stories on Navy basketball’s Greg Sprink, the Naval Academy’s first All-American honoree since David Robinson in 1987. Sprink was honorable mention All-American pick by the Associated Press in 2008.


Greg Sprink finished his Navy basketball career as a long-range bomber from three-point range with All-American honorable mention honors as a senior in the 2007-08 season.

But when he was a role player when he started on El Camino High's boys basketball team that was ranked among the best in the state with a talented college-bound cast.

Gyno Pomare, now an All-West Coast Conference player at the University of San Diego, was the big man inside.

Mikel Watson, who has played at NCAA Division I schools Wyoming and Utah State and is now at NAIA Lewis-Clark State, was the slashing guard who could score outside and drive to the basket.

Justin Armstrong, now a senior guard at Columbia of the Ivy League, was the man-among-boys, physically, who might have had a future as an NFL safety if he hadn't devoted himself to basketball.

And playing a supporting role among the starters was a skinny, 6-foot-3 kid who hit a few three-pointers but mostly got the ball to his dominating teammates.

Navy senior Greg Sprink, that same El Camino kid, is now a leader of men at a place designed to develop leaders. Sprink, a 6-5, 220-pound All-Patriot League pick, leads Navy in scoring at 17.3 points per game and averages 5.1 rebounds.

"Part of it is working on my game, getting stronger and maturing," Sprink said.

"The Naval Academy has given me a chance to get an education and fulfill a dream since I was little to play Division I college basketball."

But five years ago, Navy seemed an unlikely destination for Sprink, who spent his first year after high school at the academy's prep school.

Sprink didn't open the first two recruiting letters the Midshipmen sent to his house. Then his parents, Tom and Karen, saw a letter of interest from Navy.

"When my dad got the letter, he said, 'Whoa,' " Greg said. "He showed it to my grandparents and asked around."

Tom Sprink, a longtime teacher and track coach at El Camino, talked with Texas Tech coach Bob Knight when Knight visited El Camino to recruit Armstrong. Knight, who started his coaching career at Army, regaled Greg with stories about the Army-Navy rivalry.

Forced to look closer, Sprink started to appreciate the advantages of a Navy education and the secure job opportunities that include a five-year military commitment upon graduation.

"I'm glad my parents pushed me toward this decision," Sprink said. "As much as I thought I knew everything in high school, I know that's not the case. With the opportunities I've received, serving my country five years is the least I can do. If I enjoy it, I may stay in 20 years. My options are open."

The other factor, of course, is the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"A lot of us at the academy can't wait to be on the ground or behind the scenes doing everything we can to help," Sprink said. "It's something that has to be done, and you want capable people who are willing to lead for successful missions. I don't know what I'll be asked to do when I graduate, but I don't have any doubts. That has to be your attitude.

* * *  

Sprink on the idea of a Navy game aboard an aircraft carrier – years before the Michigan State-North Carolina game was played aboard the USS Vinson in 2011. Bruce Binkowski of the San Diego Bowl Game Association and I explored the idea in 2006.

Picture this strategy adjustment confronting San Diego State’s men’s basketball team while playing Navy in a game aboard an aircraft carrier docked in San Diego Harbor.

SDSU’s Richie Williams pulls up for a jumper, but a shift in the wind turns what would have been a swish of the nets into a shot that bounces long off the rim.

At the other end, Navy’s Greg Sprink, the team captain and an alumnus of El Camino High in Oceanside, takes the ball and pushes it up court. He senses the wind n he has experience from playing on the USS Wasp during summer cruises n compensates and buries the three-pointer.

Talk about your halftime adjustments.

“A game like that would be outstanding,” said Sprink, a 6-foot-5, 220-pounder senior that leads Navy with 17.5 points per game. “It’s right up our alley. For the players, it would be an opportunity of a lifetime. I’m sure a lot of people would want to see a game like tha

San Diego, a Navy town, already couldn’t seem to be more hospitable than it is with this week’s schedule of Naval Academy sports in town.

First, Navy’s men’s and women’s basketball teams play San Diego State at Cox Arena, with the men’s game Monday night and the women playing Tuesday night.

Then, the Navy football team faces Utah Thursday night in the third annual San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.

But imagine a basketball game aboard an aircraft carrier, with proceeds benefiting Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. That would be a way to add to a special week.

San Diego Bowl Game Association Executive President Bruce Binkowski, who first approached SDSU about adding Navy basketball games to this week’s schedule along with Navy’s anticipated appearance in the Poinsettia Bowl, explored the possibility of playing a game on the Midway, the historic aircraft carrier now serving duty as a museum in San Diego Harbor.

But there were too many obstacles to make such an event happen, at least in the short term.

Playing on the retired Midway overcomes the obstacle of the Department of Navy declining to reserve an active aircraft carrier for a sporting event in a time of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But the Midway, a World War II-era carrier, it isn’t as large as modern carriers. The fire marshal would limit attendance on the Midway and that would mean TV money would be needed to overcome costs.

But still, it’s a great idea, with the only known precedence a 1967 Harlem Globetrotters game aboard the USS Enterprise.

“We set up a court last summer when I was on a cruise with the USS Wasp,” Sprink said. “It was definitely a great experience. I think a game like that would be a great morale boost for a lot of young sailors and marines who serve on aircraft carriers. It would give them recognition and credit for what they do for our country. “


--- Tom Shanahan has featured Army, Navy and Air Force athletes for nearly 30 years in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Voice of San Diego, Rivals.com and the Raleigh News and Observer. He attended his first Army-Navy Game after John Feinstein wrote in his book on the rivalry, “A Civil War,” everyone should attend the Army-Navy Game at least once. Air Force players will remind their Army and Navy games are big, too.


Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan is an award-winning sportswriter and the author of "Raye of Light". Tom has also written for the San Diego Union-Tribune, Voice of San Diego, Chargers.com, Rivals.com, and Gameday Central. He has won multiple first-place awards from the San Diego Press Club and first place from the Copley News Service Ring of Truth Awards. The National Football Foundation/San Diego Chapter presented him its Distinguished American Award in 2003 and USA Track and Field’s San Diego Chapter its President’s Award in 2000.

Raye of Light: Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the integration of college football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans

By Tom Shanahan; Foreword by Tony Dungy; August Publications

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