Tommy Funk’s stamp on Army basketball seems destined to stick to that program for some time.
As Funk heads for the graduation stage — that’s the plan at West Point, for a live graduation Saturday — his mark on Army’s record book boils down to this: First all-time in single-season assists. And second. And third.
And … fifth.
What happened to fourth?
“It would have sounded a lot cooler," Funk said over the phone, if he had picked up that spot as a freshman.
This sounds more authentic, a goal the Archbishop Wood High graduate from Warrington had to work toward.
“It’s such a cool stat," said Army assistant coach Zak Boisvert. “I always give him a hard time. … ‘If you’d been just a little better as a freshman.’ He says back, ‘If you’d been a little better coach.’ "
That gets to Funk’s personality, his importance to Army hoops. Boisvert remembers a scrimmage, the assistant officiating. A foul not called.
“Blow the whistle, ref.”
“Get a better handle, Funk.”
“Create better ballhandling drills, Coach.”
“We pretend as coaches we don’t have favorites," Boisvert said. “Anybody on our staff, I’d be shocked if they didn’t consider him a favorite of any player they’ve coached. He’s a special kid.”
By next year, Funk will be in officer training school, then his first duty station, Fort Hood, Texas, field artillery. He hopes there will be a chance to continue playing competitive basketball.
If someone calls an Army basketball player a leader, you might think, all right, that’s expected. Except, Boisvert makes clear, Funk is different. Sure, he was a captain the last two seasons playing for head coach Jimmy Allen.
“I’m not like a huge fan of the term captain," Funk said. “Because I don’t think you can assign the role of leader on a team. It’s more showing up every day, having the team see how hard you work, and how willing you are to work to win. Bring others along. Not big speeches.”
“I’ve never seen a relationship quite like this," Boisvert said of that between Funk and his teammates. “They looked at Tommy, even though he was a peer, it was almost fatherly. They didn’t want to let him down.”
That came into play big-time for one series of Patriot League games the past couple of seasons. Army vs. Bucknell. Tommy Funk vs. Andrew Funk. Since Tommy is two years ahead of his brother, they had four meetings over two years. The first three, everybody within the Army program felt they had let Tommy down.
It wasn’t that Bucknell was clearly better each time. Army had it, lost it. Had it again, lost it again. Two more chances … had it, lost it.
“We had this nasty monkey on our back,’’ Boisvert said of those earlier games. “It is a competitive family. They are straight out of central casting. So we’re up 25 at our place junior year, they come back, furious comeback, beat us at the buzzer. Winter break at West Point, it is the darkest, gloomiest place in the country. Every year is gray. Our guys always say, that was the darkest hour of all time.”
A one-point loss at home, followed by a one-point loss at Bucknell. “We’re up all game, they make a play, they win,’’ Boisvert said of that one. (Salt in wound: Younger brother had 17 points off Bucknell’s bench, hitting 5-of-9 three-pointers.)
So kid brother has a summer of bragging rights, and uses them. Senior year, first meeting. Bucknell wins by two. Three straight games where one play could have made the difference.
“Each one of those games had 40 of those,’’ Boisvert said.
So imagine if you’re on Army’s team, one last chance to win one for Funk, or the other Funk has lifetime bragging rights.
“Very important,’’ Tommy said of that last meeting. “It wasn’t even me that was feeling that way. My teammates and coaches were like, ‘We need to get this for Tommy. We’re not going to let this get away.’ ‘’
Final score: Army 68, Bucknell 59. Tommy scored 19.
The rest of his season, the senior stayed on a tear, with 33 points against Lehigh, 24 against Boston University in his next two games. The last game of his career, a loss to Lafayette in the Patriot League tournament, Funk had 21 points and 12 assists. He averaged 17.5 points and 7.1 assists.
That assist total was seventh-best in Division I. (Fun fact: Only two players who had more assists than Funk also had more points. One of them was Josh Sharkey of Samford, who had battled Funk in the Philadelphia Catholic League when Sharkey was at Archbishop Carroll.)
Now, as Tommy moves on from college hoops, his brother is back to being on the same team.
“We don’t talk about the record,’’ Tommy said of their basketball battles. “We never really give in to each other. We’re starting to move past it a little. I want to help him get better.”