Falcons' Burtschi to pursue hoops dream

Air Force forward Jacob Burtschi is defended by Austin Peay forward Fernandez Lockett in the first-round game of the National Invitation Tournament at the Air Force Academy's Clune Arena March 14. All five Falcon starters, including Burschi, scored 13 points in their 75-51 win over the Governors in Air Force's first post-season victory in school history. (U.S. Air Force photo/1st Lt. John Ross)

Air Force forward Jacob Burtschi pushes through Austin Peay forward Fernandez Lockett in the first-round game of the National Invitation Tournament at the Air Force Academy's Clune Arena March 14, 2007. All five Falcon starters, including Burschi, scored 13 points in their 75-51 win over the Governors in Air Force's first post-season victory in school history. Burtschi, a 2007 Air Force Academy graduate, will be released early from his active-duty service commitment and plans to pursue a career in the NBA. (U.S. Air Force photo/1st Lt. John Ross)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- First Lt. Jacob Burtschi, a former Air Force Academy standout basketball player currently stationed here, will be released from his Air Force commitment early and plans to pursue a professional basketball career.

Burtschi, a Bravo crew commander with the 11th Space Warning Squadron, a tenant unit here, will take advantage of the 2010 Force Management program and exit the Air Force this June, cutting two years off his five-year commitment.

Citing budget concerns, Congress has asked the Air Force to reduce it ranks by 3,500 Airmen this year, and that's what the Force Management Program was designed to do. Originally, Burtschi heard Academy grads were required to pay recruitment fees if they desired to exit prior to their five-year commitments, but he said those fees were eventually waived as part of this Force Management program.

A 2007 Academy graduate, Burtschi was a three-year starter and holds all-time school records as the player with the most wins (90), most games played (125) and most steals (196). He ranks 10th all-time in scoring (1,205 points) and led Academy teams to a pair of NCAA tournament berths and a semifinal appearance in the National Invitational Tournament.

Upon graduation, he spent his first year of active duty coaching at the Academy Preparatory School. He then entered space and missile training at Vandenberg AFB, Calif., and arrived at Schriever in December 2008.

He said he has enjoyed his military career and relishes his time here.

"I've had a great time," he said. "I've been blessed to have worked with a great bunch of guys."

Upon his release from the Air Force, the young lieutenant  will move to Denver, where he will work with former Academy coaches Joe Scott and Jeff Bzdelik, who now coach at Denver University and Colorado, respectively.

"Both coaches carry so much knowledge," Burtschi said. "Joe Scott really pays attention to a lot of small things like toughness and ball handling, while Jeff Bzdelic is the type of coach who maintains a mindset of plays and different ways to score. It will be a great opportunity for me to soak up a wealth of knowledge."

He says he'll work some basketball camps and work out with both school's squads in an effort to hone his talents against players with different skill sets.

After spending the summer in Denver, Burtschi will then travel home to Oklahoma City, where he'll spend some time with his father, a veteran high school coach before heading off to Europe in hopes of earning a professional basketball contract there.

Ultimately, he hopes to play professionally in the NBA but believes playing in Europe should be the first step in that process.

"Spain has one of the best leagues in Europe and Finland fields good teams as well," he said. "I have an agent in Spain right now who is confident I can earn a contract there. It would be great to one day play in the NBA if things progress. Maybe I can get lucky."

For now, he plans to spend a few years playing in Europe and working toward his NBA dream. And, he'll hold off on his coaching aspirations until his playing career ends.

"I want to coach at the college level," he said. "Right now I have a former teammate, A.J. Kuhle, who is an assistant for Joe Scott at DU. He's always said if he got a head coaching job, he'd want me on his staff, so ... who knows."