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Air Force men's basketball team takes flight under Duquesne native

When Duquesne native Dave Pilipovich became Air Force's interim men's basketball coach Feb. 8, his primary directive from athletic director Hans Mueh was to make the sport fun again for the players.

That didn't take long.

Pilipovich, an assistant the past 26 years who's finally getting his big break, guided Air Force to a 58-56 win over No. 13 San Diego State on Saturday — the first time in 64 tries the Falcons have beaten a top-20 team.

"We've talked a lot about regrouping," said Pilipovich, whose Falcons (13-11, 3-7 Mountain West) have won two of three since he was hired, snapping a six-game losing streak. "We also talked about not looking back and trying to finish on the right note."

Pilipovich is humble and genuine, traits that resonate with his players. He even refuses to park in the head coach's parking space at Air Force because he doesn't want to be viewed differently.

Despite his reluctance to step into the spotlight, Pilipovich had a plan on what to do when he finally became a head coach.

He gave each player a poker chip and has them drop the chips into a bucket before every game, a demonstration of being "all in." He also had them write the name of a loved one they're dedicating this season to on a basketball that they touch before they take the floor. His reason: Even if players don't want to give maximum effort for themselves, by failing to do so, they would be letting down that loved on.

"For Dave to get an opportunity like this, it's something he's been waiting 20 years for," said Thiel coach Tim Loomis, who gave Pilipovich his first job as a graduate assistant at California (Pa.) in 1986. "I'm happy for him."

Pilipovich looks back at his time in Pittsburgh fondly, often joking about recruiting more there so he can see old friends and eat at Primanti Brothers on Air Force's dime.

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