Part of the United States Military Academy’s mission states that “each graduate is a commissioned leader of character …”
“Every kid who plays basketball has dreams of having success at the highest level,” believes Army coach Jimmy Allen. “But the mission of the academy is creating leaders and developing leadership character. You have to be able to not just tell other people what do to – that’s not leadership. Leadership is bringing the people around you to a higher level and helping them succeed.”
Allen’s senior point guard, co-captain Tommy Funk, has helped teammates succeed more than anyone in West Point annals. Warrington’s Funk is Army’s all-time assists leader and one of just eight players in Patriot League history with both 1,000 points and 500 dimes.
“Tommy is as understanding as anyone in my 10 years here in terms of, ‘How can I help my teammates improve?’ That is where his leadership has been so special,” Allen continued. “The biggest reason that Tommy has been successful is his competitiveness. I think he absolutely is as competitive of a kid as I have had a chance to coach. Tommy wants to win everything.”
“I’ve always had that competitive nature, ever since being a kid,” Funk shared. “I wasn’t very highly recruited and since I’ve been here I’ve wanted to prove to the coaching staff that they were right in recruiting me – and prove to other people that they may have made a mistake in not recruiting me. That’s been a big motivation.”
Funk’s 189 assists last year broke the Army single-season record held by … Tommy Funk. If Funk maintains his average of 172 dimes a year, he’ll graduate as the top helper in Patriot League history.
“Our team assist numbers have been the highest in program history over the past three to four years,” Funk noted. “I attribute that to our pace and the pieces we have. At any point, from one through four, we can all hit outside shots. And Matt Wilson, one of our leading scorers, is down low so it’s easy to throw it to him and get a quick bucket.”
“We play an up-tempo style that puts a lot of responsibilities on our point guards. Everything starts in transition and our point guard’s ability to get in the paint and pressure the defense to stop them or, once they’ve been stopped, to kick the ball and create opportunities for teammates,” Allen explained. “Tommy has an incredible basketball IQ and a wonderful feel for being able to read the defense, understand who is open, where to get them the ball and when.”
Funk averaged over 12 points a game last season. He improved his 3-point percentage from 30% as a plebe to 36.4% over his last two campaigns. Funk bettered his free throw percentage from 64% as a freshman, to 70% to 76% as a junior.
“I really was a bad shooter my freshman year. I won’t be afraid to admit it,” Funk said. “The coaching staff and I identified that as an area of my game that I needed to improve on and it’s something I focused on every single summer. It’s been a lot of work in the gym.”
“When you tell Tommy, ‘Hey, we need to get a little bit better here,’ Tommy is going to work really, really hard,” Allen echoed.
Funk was a third-team All-Patriot League pick who recorded a double-double at Duke last November. Last year, Funk scored 14 in the Black Knights’ 66-61 win at Air Force, and he paced the Cadets with 22 points and seven assists in Army’s 72-61 win over archnemesis Navy.
“I didn’t know much about West Point until I was recruited. And I took three separate visits before I decided to come,” Funk admitted. “It was seeing how everybody is driven towards the same goal of trying to be the best you can be.”
Funk will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the spring. He will learn his assigned branch in several weeks, and then spend at least five years on active duty.
But first, there is a basketball season to be played and Funk takes several contests personally. Army opened against Villanova – and Funk’s Archbishop Wood back court mate Collin Gillespie. Twice in January, Army duels Patriot League rival Bucknell. Andrew Funk, Tommy’s younger brother, plays guard for the Bison.
“I’m still in touch with Collin and our families are really close. It’s going to be interesting at first because I’ve never played against him,” Funk said in late October.
“With my brother, it was weird last year having the family there watching and not knowing who to cheer for. This year, I know all of the emotions that go around it. I really need to get ready for those games and get two wins, because I can’t,” Funk concluded, “live the rest of my life knowing that I lost to my brother.”
At press time, Funk averaged 10 points and 7.5 assists through Army’s (2-2) four games.
Funk would likely be first team if the Patriot League named an All-Leadership squad. “Having this group of guys be so tight knit and trying to get us to where we want to be has been what has taught me the most on being a leader,” Funk explained. “Team captains really get a good experience at West Point leadership wise. It’s second to none.”
After this interview was conducted, Tommy Funk learned that his branch assignment is Field Artillery.