Marines Roll Away With Wheelchair Basketball Gold
By Army Master Sgt. Doug Sample
Army News Service
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., May 14, 2010 Marine Corps athletes used teamwork and skill to win gold in the inaugural Warrior Games wheelchair basketball tournament here yesterday, but Lance Cpl. Justin Martin’s performance could lead people to believe he could have won the game all by himself.
Retired Marine Corps Cpl. Travis Greene makes a play for the ball during the gold medal game for wheelchair basketball in the inaugural Warrior Games at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., May 13, 2010. The Marines won gold, defeating Army 44-15. DoD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Martin scored a game-high 14 points, including 10 in the first half, as the Corps rolled over Army 44-15 to finish the wheelchair basketball tournament undefeated, giving its medal-crazed fans another moment to remember.
As the frenzied crowd stormed the floor at the final buzzer, the U.S. Olympic Training Center gymnasium floor was covered in red and gold.
Marine head coach Billy Denby, who watched his players receive their gold medals from Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr., said the dominating win shows the strength of his squad. “They are willing to do whatever it is to get to the next level,” he said.
“It feels amazing, but we could not have done it without our fans and coaches, said Pfc. Jesse Schag, who had nine points in the gold medal game.
The Marine team shut down Army’s offense, holding Spc. Chris Smith, Army’s leading scorer, to just nine points for the night. Army Sgt. Michael Ortiz, who emerged as an offensive threat by scoring 12 on May 12 against Navy, went scoreless.
Meanwhile, the Marines were hitting on all cylinders, running off 14 unanswered points and holding Army scoreless for 14 minutes. Smith finally put Army on the board with consecutive baskets that, for a brief moment, resuscitated the team’s offense. A Smith free throw cut the margin to 14-5.
But as quickly Army’s offense had come to life, the Marines applied the defensive pressure that shut down the soldiers’ momentum.
The Marines would score on their first nine possessions of the second half to take a commanding 35-5 lead, while the Army’s shots either bounced off the rim or fell short. Smith, who at times appeared frustrated, added four more points late into the second half, but by then the game, and the gold, was in the Marine Corps’ hands.
Even with his team up by 30, Denby, a retired Army Vietnam veteran who is a double amputee, was pacing the sidelines and barking instructions. The Marines' coach said he was not happy with the lead, and called his team’s play “atrocious.”
“Their passing is off, they’re not pushing, and it’s probably because they are tired,” he said of his players, many of whom had just finished winning the gold medal for sitting volleyball. “So I’m trying to push them even harder. We are winning, and I’m thankful for that, but it’s time to push up.”
Despite the fierce competition between the two services, there were handshakes and hugs all around after the game, with promises of “We’ll meet again next year.” As a show of solidarity, the two teams joined together at center court and began shouting, “USA! USA!” as if to say that this tournament is not about gold medals, but about country.
But don’t tell that to Smith.
“We only had three days to come together as a team, so to get second place was pretty good this year,” he said.
“But next year,” Smith added. “We’re getting the gold.”