News: 'Just Us'
Story by Sgt. Marcus Fichtl
KUWAIT CITY – Sgt. Corey Jones, co-captain of the U.S. – Kuwaiti Land Forces basketball team posts up, a Kuwait Air Force player slashes into the lane and bumps into Jones. The ref blows the whistle calling a third foul barely into the first quarter. The KAF player sinks his free throws and they pull within four.
Rewind to a few hours prior, Hip-hop music blasts through a 15-passenger van as it zigzags through the streets of Kuwait City. Inside, a handful of basketball players silently roaring in confidence as they approach the Kuwait Sports Complex one last time, for one last game, the Kuwait Military Basketball Championship, April 28.
They aren’t just any American basketball players; they’re the All-U.S. Army Central Champions from the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division out of Camp Buehring, Kuwait.
“Just us” is their motto and according to them, it’s a brotherhood. It’s not the hype, the refs or the fans.
Jones and his team walk into the basketball stadium as Salem, Co-Captain of the US- Kuwaiti Land Forces basketball team greets them.
He embraces and kisses Jones and the American’s on their cheeks, the local greeting between friends in Kuwait.
The US-Kuwaiti team didn’t start with a warm embrace - it wasn’t “just us.” It was us or them as the two sides first met just over a month ago.
“We walk in, we’re trying to give them handshakes, and they’re on one side of the court and we’re on the other side - it’s a middle school dance” said Jones. “Then the coach comes in, blows his whistle and has us do sprints for 15 minutes. He told us ‘this is our new family now, and that we have to look out for each other’.”
A week after the first practice and the new family put their trust in Jones, he hit two three point shots to defeat the Kuwaiti Royal Guard 84-82.
“It’s been like that ever since – family,” Jones said.
But this isn’t the first game, this is the championship.
The game looks like it might get out of hand any minute with Jones on the bench and the other American’s starting to get into foul trouble. What started as a 15-point lead quickly turned into three.
But the Kuwaiti half of the team picked up the slack as Salem makes a key stop and follows up with and easy layup. The KAF’s run ends.
Now with the lead secure, the teammates prove they can rely on each other.
“The Kuwaitis know the game and they shoot lights out,” said Jones.
“Not only are they skilled, they use the same lingo you would find on the courts in the US,” said Jones.
“Salem says a lot of ‘boom shakka-lakka,’ or ‘its money time,’ when he’s about to dunk,” said Jones.
Its midway through the third quarter, the US-KLF team maintains a slight lead when, Sgt. Nathaniel “Slim” Prigian fakes out a defender, and with a clear shot of the basket, Slim slams the ball down, “its money time.”
The fans chant “Slim, Slim, Slim,” as Jones and the rest of the bench go wild.
The KAF never came back.
With a trophy in hand, the month-long partnership reached its peak, but a lifetime of brotherhood began.
“We came together,” said Jones. “They have different cultures and backgrounds, but all we want to do was win a championship. I thought it was about basketball that first practice when we ran sprints up and down the court, but it’s not about basketball anymore to me, it’s about love, we’re brothers, we’re family.”
“The Americans are our friends and they help us everywhere and anywhere,” said Salem. He continued as he pointed to himself, “They have a brother here, they have a family; we love the guys.”
“Just us,” a brotherhood, a Kuwaiti-US brotherhood.
The US-Kuwaiti Land Forces team defeated the Kuwaiti Air Force Team 78-62 to win the Kuwaiti Military Basketball Tournament.