RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil –
Air Force Capt. Matthew McCraw scored 34 points and Army 2nd Lt. Paul Nelson added 23 to lead Team USA to an 84-83 victory over South Korea for the bronze medal in men’s basketball at the 5th Counseil International du Sport Militaire Military World Games on July 24.
McCraw, of Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, scored Team USA’s last four points in the final 25 seconds to secure the bronze. He shot 12 of 18 from the field, including five of nine on 3-pointers, and made five of seven free throws.
McCraw was selected as the tournament’s best shooting guard after averaging 19 points for eight games.
Six Soldiers and six Airmen came together for Team USA and went 7-1 in Rio de Janeiro by defeating Counseil International du Sport Militaire, or CISM, World Champion South Korea, 76-68; Trinidad and Tobago, 74-54; Canada, 103-45; Cyprus, 93-54; silver medalist Greece, 82-76; and Qatar, 95-84; before losing 59-52 to gold medalist Brazil in the semifinals.
Host Brazil defeated Greece, 76-64, in the gold medal game.
Point guard Army 2nd Lt. Marcus Nelson of Fort Lee, Va., the leading shot blocker in United States Military Academy history and the NCAA Division I Patriot League’s 2010 Defensive Player of the Year, set the tempo at both ends of the court for Team USA.
“Marcus Nelson was by far the best defender in this tournament. It wasn’t even close,” said Team USA assistant coach Capt. David Smith of Fort Knox, Ky. “He enabled us to pressure by stopping everyone’s point guard. He is the consummate defender.”
Paul Nelson drivesPaul Nelson, of the Michigan Army National Guard in Taylor, Mich., was the consummate reserve point guard coming off the bench for Team USA.
“We stuck together and came in and played hard today,” said Nelson, who won three National Christian College Athletic Association Division II national championships at Grace Bible College in Grand Rapids, Mich. “I’m happy with the win. I would like to have won yesterday, but Brazil is a pretty good team. I think we’re a better team, but they had their night last night.
“We were seven and one, so I think that’s a pretty good testament of our team. Just playing for the U.S. basketball team and representing America, I think that’s an awesome experience. Sport brings a lot of people together, so this is a good way to get countries to get to know each other.”
Army Pfc. Kevin Clark of Fort Bliss, Texas, had nine points, seven rebounds and three assists in the bronze medal game.
“This feels good for the country because Team USA does not have many medals in these Games,” Clark said. “Every game was hard, especially toward the end of the week, but everybody played and everybody contributed. We came together every game as a team and it was real nice to put this many countries on one stage.
“This is my first Military World Games,” added Clark, who has competed in CISM and SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) basketball tournaments. “It was a unique experience. It was different because SHAPE and CISM mainly cater to your individual sport, but here we had all the sports, so we got a chance to mingle and meet with other athletes who are military.”
“We don’t normally see that in the States,” he said. “We came here and saw track and field, swimming, shooting, parachuting -- it was real nice. We had fun, we came together as a unit, and I’m just happy to be here.”
Army 2nd Lt. Cleveland Richard, a 2010 West Point graduate from Houston who is stationed at Fort Lee, Va., scored seven points against South Korea.
“This was my first CISM, so it feels great to bring a medal back,” Richard said. “We know we’re wearing USA on our chests so we had to show that we have heart and give it all we had. Unfortunately, we lost the wrong game, but seven and one is a good way to go.”
“It’s pretty cool being around athletes from all sports from different countries and trying to understand the different languages,” Richard continued. “I took Spanish and Portuguese growing up, so I’m trying to work my way through that and mix them up a little bit. It makes me want to travel, which is something I never really thought about doing before now.”
Army Spc. Will Lewis, a center from Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., anchored the middle for Team USA.
“I’m real happy that we were able to represent the United States and all the military, being that we don’t bring any professional athletes,” said Lewis, a native of Fort Wayne, Ind. “Some of the countries have their professional athletes, so it’s very good that we’re able to bring something back. I’m proud of everyone because this is such a close-knit team.”
Competing every day or night of the week, Lewis cherished the thrill of victories but wished he saw more of the 5th CISM Military World Games.
“I enjoyed the fellowship with the athletes from different cultures,” Lewis said. “I wish we were able to get out to more events. I watched judo last night for the first time and that was really interesting, so the best part of CISM has to be seeing all the different sports and meeting different athletes from different countries.”
This was the best U.S. CISM men’s basketball team Smith can remember.
“I’ve worked three CISM and two SHAPE tournaments, and this is the best team I’ve seen,” said Smith, who coached Team USA to a gold medal in the 2011 SHAPE Championships. “This team is a little bit more talented than that team. It’s got a little more size and athleticism. The guys really jelled together.”
Maj. Tyron Wright of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Ted Albers of Buckley Air Force Base, Colo., coached Team USA, which held its own against teams loaded with many of the best players from other countries.
“A lot of people don’t realize, especially in basketball, how much talent is here,” Smith said. “We’re probably the only team without pros -- the only team without players from national teams and World Championship teams. We were seven and one and yesterday we got beat because Brazil went to their bench and pulled up two national team players they picked up that very day -- that’s how we lost that game. They played with 10 the entire week, knowing those two were getting released from their Olympic Team practices yesterday.”
“They’re a big team,” Smith said in reference to Brazil. “We knew they had some size, but their length bothered us.”
Team USA lost Air Force Staff Sgt. Jammar Major of Hurlburt Field, Fla., to a left hip injury in the first quarter against Brazil and played without him against South Korea. Major had 22 points and eight rebounds as Team USA overcame a 36-28 halftime deficit for a 74-54 victory over Trinidad and Tobago Tuesday night.
“I think it will be somebody different every night, like last night McCraw went off,” said Major, who played four seasons for Georgia Southwestern University. “I just try to stay aggressive. I really don’t look to put up 20 or 30 points every night, but if I’ve got it going -- my job pretty much is to rebound and be the anchor down low.”
The level of CISM basketball competition is somewhere between NCAA Division I and the NBA.
“If we had our team together for two months, we could play in any conference in the country -- ACC, SEC, it doesn’t matter,” Smith said. “With camp and this altogether, we played 12 games in a week and a half and the only one we lost was to Brazil. We knew we were good, but we actually thought we could win it all.”