News: Afghanistan downs America, 73-70, in basketball scrimmage
By Erika R. Stetson
USFOR-A Public Affairs
KABUL, Afghanistan – Consistent three-point shooting led an Afghan basketball team to a 73-70 victory against a team of U.S. troops and contractors in a scrimmage at Ghazi Stadium on Thursday, Sept. 22.
The game was played during the week when former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who led national efforts to make peace with the Taliban, was assassinated, and about a week after insurgents attacked international and Afghan government targets in Kabul, sparking a 20-hour gun battle.
Players and organizers praised the game as a chance to look forward and show resilience and solidarity after Rabbani’s assassination as well as in the face of Afghanistan’s ongoing struggles to establish peace and security.
“Everyone forgot about the Taliban and everything else and just enjoyed sports,” said Col. Richard Unda, the U.S. Forces-Afghanistan deputy director for civil-military operations and one of the American team’s players. “There was a sense of normalcy. That’s what this country needs.”
Afghanistan’s players were from the Kabul Club Team for Afghanistan’s National Basketball Team. America’s players were from various USFOR-A agencies.
Afghanistan opened the scoring with two baskets and two foul shots before the U.S. rallied to tie, 6-6, the last two of those points on a fast break. But Afghanistan then went up 8-6 on a layup that capped a solo drive into a packed key and followed with a three-pointer on the next possession to pull ahead 11-6.
America fought back against a steady rain of Afghan 3-pointers with a series of fast breaks, battling to a lead of 1 in the second quarter, their first time at the top of the scoreboard. It was short-lived, however, as Afghanistan soon re-exerted itself, at times pulling ahead by as many as 7 points, and ending the half up, 37-34.
After the whistle, America’s Willis Jenkins, an EPS Corp. senior systems engineer with USFOR-A. acknowledged that “we need to tighten up on defense. A lot of open shots were allowed in the half.”
America pushed to a 40-40 tie in the third quarter before Afghanistan began to pull away, opening up an 11 point lead, 53-42, before the final quarter. In a determined surge relying on quick passing and fast breaks, along with redoubled defensive efforts, the U.S. eroded the Afghan lead throughout the fourth quarter, again eventually edging ahead by a 1-point margin, 64-63, as the clock wore down.
Afghanistan, however, rallied, going basket for basket, then pulling ahead by five points, 66-71, in part with a foul shot and a 3-pointer. The U.S. team then surged, closing the deficit to 72-72 with nine seconds left, then again pulled ahead by 1 point, 73-72, on a foul shot.
But in a final burst of coordinated teamwork, the Afghan team on their last possession drew American defenders to the outside of the key, opening a lane for a layup that recaptured the advantage, 74-73, and drawing a foul. A rebound from that shot gave Afghanistan its final 76-73 score.
Players shook hands after the competition and congratulated each other on a hard-fought game.
“Everybody played hard,” said Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Wilmer Fiapai, an awards specialist with USFOR-A. “They just got that last shot off.”
Shikaeb Rahi Soratgur, an Afghan player and an event organizer, said the game was a rare chance for the team to face off against new competition.
"I want to have different teams to play with us,” he said. “We don’t have tournaments here. We want new teams, new players. This is a great day for improving our skills and improving basketball for Afghanistan.”
Ghazi Stadium is a multipurpose athletic complex where the Taliban formerly held executions before an international coalition swept the Taliban from power. The court where the game was played was decorated with pictures of Rabbani, as were Kabul’s public areas as the nation observed a mourning period. Rabbani’s funeral was observed the next day.
Date Posted:09.24.2011 06:39
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