WUHAN, China –
The U.S. Armed Forces men's basketball team had begun their appearance at the CISM Military World Games with a rough loss against China, but fought back with a vengeance during their next four appearances on the court.
The team recovered quickly to take on Congo during a heated battle that led to a victory of 79-76, followed by another close call against Qatar with a win of 71-68. Their next matchup versus Mongolia ended with another win of 88-86.
“Even though there has been a lot of adversity, our team has stayed together,” said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Micah Bonner, the team’s coach. “In our first game, we fouled a lot and we paid for it. We also haven’t played that level of competition particularly in an international environment, so with the physicality and some of the nuance of the rules over here, the coaches and players weren’t prepared for that, so we didn’t make the right adjustments during that game.”
During their matchup against China, the team had some apprehension going up against the team.
“Their team has been together for a lot longer than ours so we knew we had to play our best game,” said Navy Lt. j.g. Tillman Dunbar. “While I think we did that in a lot of aspects, I think we could’ve done better. The last couple of games after that loss have let us hit our stride, knock out all of the kinks and if we see them again in the gold medal game, we will definitely be ready.”
Despite the loss, they learned some valuable lessons and found a rhythm to overtake their next opponent. The shooting statistics show that both teams remained close throughout each period, but the U.S. team led in the free throw rate, scoring 21 points versus Congo’s 3.
“We learned from the China loss that they call the game a little different here,” said Army Spc. Derrell Henderson. “We have treated every game after that as an elimination game. We’re still a new team, so we are figuring this out as we go.”
The team, composed of many first-timers at CISM, showed how valuable their veterans are during their game against Qatar. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jahmal Lawson, who played for the U.S. during the 6th CISM in South Korea, praised the team’s ability to take the team further than their last appearance at the world games.
Lawson scored 17 points during the game followed by Dunbar who earned the team 14 points.
“The closeness of the last few games have showed us that we need to tighten up our defense,” said Lawson. “We don’t want to give up a lot of points like we have been doing so our game plan is to go out there and do whatever it takes to win. Score more points than the other team. We want to get that gold.”
The next matchup versus Congo showed how versatile the team is. Henderson scored 22 points while Lawson sunk 19 points and Air Force 2nd Lt. Jacob Van scored 18.
“Even though we’re getting tired, we’re still very excited with the opportunity at hand,” said Dunbar. “Team USA hasn’t won a gold medal at CISM yet and we have a real chance to be the first team to do it. We’ve just got to stay focused on our goal. Our team understands what is at stake and we’re ready to get it done.”
After three wins, the team headed to the semifinals against Brazil where they won 78-61. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Ronald Rhea scored 14 points for the United States while the team’s overall free throw percentage was 72% - a nearly 30% increase from their game against Congo.
The team headed to the final game versus Lithuania in hopes of getting gold for the first time since 2008.
“When we won earlier this year with the All-Navy team, it was our first time winning since I was a player. In CISM, we haven’t won since the last time I was a player. So I feel like everything is coming full circle,” said Bonner.
After a hard-fought battle against the men’s team from Lithuania, the United States lost 91-83, earning silver and finishing second out of 10 teams.
“Even though we didn’t win and I know they are feeling that now, they’ll be appreciative of the silver we are taking home,” said Bonner. “We’ve got some of the greatest guys on our team and I am proud to be a part of it.”