Story   Know Your Military

U.S. Men Bounce Back to Take Basketball Silver Medal

Oct. 28, 2019 | BY Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Gulianna Dunn

The U.S. Armed Forces men's basketball team had begun their appearance at the CISM Military World Games in Wuhan, China, with a rough loss to the host-nation squad, 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 79-76 victory, followed by a 71-68 close-call victory over Qatar. Their next game was an 88-86 squeaker over Mongolia.

Basketball coach confers with referee.
Coach Chat
Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Micah Bonner, U.S armed forces men’s basketball team head coach, listens to a referee during the CISM World Games in Wuhan, China, Oct. 25, 2019. The U.S. team defeated Brazil 78-61 to advance to the gold medal game. Lithuania earned the men’s basketball gold medal, and the U.S. team earned silver.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Vito T. Bryant, DOD
VIRIN: 191025-D-TW998-047

"Even though there has been a lot of adversity, our team has stayed together," said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Micah Bonner, the U.S. team's head 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 nuances 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.

Basketball player framed by teammates in soft focus shouts encouragement.
Team Cheer
Navy Lt. j.g. Tillman Dunbar III encourages his teammates during the CISM Military World Games in Wuhan, China, Oct. 25, 2019. The U.S. team defeated Brazil 78-61 to advance to the gold medal game. Lithuania earned the men’s basketball gold medal, and the U.S. team earned silver.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Vito T. Bryant, DOD
VIRIN: 191025-D-TW998-062

"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 in the China game 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 tally, scoring 21 points to 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."

Basketball player finishes a slam-dunk as opponents look on.
Slam Dunk
Army Spc. Derell Henderson slam dunks during the CISM World Games in Wuhan, China, Oct. 25, 2019. The U.S. team defeated Brazil 78-61 to advance to the gold medal game. Lithuania earned the men’s basketball gold medal, and the U.S. team earned silver.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Vito T. Bryant, DOD
VIRIN: 191025-D-TW998-053

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. squad during the previous CISM Games in South Korea, praised the team's ability to take the team further than their last appearance at the world games.

Lawson led U.S. scorers with 17 points, followed by Dunbar, who tallied 14.

The closeness of the last few games showed the U.S. team that they needed to tighten up their defense, Lawson said. "We don't want to give up a lot of points like we have been doing," he added, "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 Congo matchup showed the team's versatility. Henderson scored 22 points, while Lawson sunk 19 points and Air Force 2nd Lt. Jacob Van scored 18.

A basketball player prepares to shoot .
Focused Shot
Navy Lt. J.G. Tilman Dunbar prepares to shoot during the CISM Military World Games men’s basketball competition in Wuhan, China, Oct. 26, 2019. The U.S. team won silver.
Photo By: EJ Hersom, DOD
VIRIN: 191026-D-DB155-0011

"Even though we're getting tired, we're still very excited with the opportunity at hand," Dunbar said. "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 shot 72% from the free-throw line — a nearly 30% increase from their game against Congo.

Blue-clad basketball player puts up a jump shot as red-clad opponent tries to block it.
Good Defense
Air Force Staff Sgt. Jahmal Lawson contests a Brazilian competitor's jump shot during the CISM Military World Games in Wuhan, China, Oct. 25, 2019. The U.S. team defeated Brazil 78-61 to advance to the gold medal game. Lithuania earned the men’s basketball gold medal, and the U.S. team earned silver.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Vito T. Bryant, DOD
VIRIN: 191025-D-TW998-024

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," Bonner said. "In CISM, we haven't won since the last time I was a player. So I feel like everything is coming full-circle."

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," Bonner. "We've got some of the greatest guys on our team, and I am proud to be a part of it."

(Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Gulianna Dunn is assigned to U.S. Armed Forces Sports.)