Manas Airmen further relations with Kyrgyzstan with 'hoops' game

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Olufemi Owolabi
  • 376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
A team of Airmen here competed with Kyrgyz athletes in a basketball game Nov. 20, at a local sports facility at Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

In the game between the Airmen from the Transit Center at Manas and a team of students put together from a local university, the Airmen defeated their counterparts, 93-86 points.

The friendly showdown was witnessed by a host of Kyrgyz sport dignitaries and hundreds of spectators, the U.S. ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, and Airmen from the Transit Center, who traveled to the city of Bishkek to see the game.

"I really liked the game because they were both playing in a friendly atmosphere," said Bahtiar Kadyrov, the vice president of Kyrgyz Basketball Federation. "Even though both teams are not professionals, they still have very good skills. I would love our friendship with the Americans to extend beyond sports. I would like us to build a stronger friendship through our education, culture and music. These are some of the ways we can develop our relationship as friends and as neighbors."

The game, used to start a sports cooperation type of relationship, had expectations undeniably high on both sides. Before the game commenced, both team coaches said they'd love to win the game very much.

Members of the Kyrgyz team, known for their competitive nature, wanted a victory simply because it would mean a morale boost for them to defeat their American counterparts, who are popular for their skills.

On the other hand, the team of Airmen did not underestimate their Kyrgyz opponents either when the team coach agreed that everyone was nervous at first when the game started.

"The Kyrgyz team was very well coached," said Timothy McAllister, the team coach from the 376th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron. "They are very good at getting into the lane and knocking down small shots. They also did a good job of sprinting back and forth."

For about the first 20 minutes into the game, the team of Airmen ran without a defined structure and didn't maintain their defensive formations. Their fans looked stunned and wondered what went wrong when the team was down by more than 14 points to the Kyrgyz team.

"We got down in the first quarter because we were not doing a good job defensively," Coach McAllister said. "We got out of that hole in the first quarter when we did a good job pressing, forcing turnovers and forcing them to make mistakes. Our guys did a great job by improving their level of play, hustling all over the court. They were much better in the second quarter when the jitters calmed down."

One of the spectators, Lt. Col. Brandon Halstead, a 376th Air Expeditionary Wing judge advocate, echoes the coach's opinion.

"It was really competitive," Colonel Halstead said. "Once we got out of the jitters in the first quarter, we seemed to jell more as a team."

The Airmen's domination of the game was even more obvious in the third quarter when the Kyrgyz team, comprised of students from the Kyrgyz-Slavic University, became tired and made more mistakes. When the game ended, the Airmen won by 7.

"We caught the Kyrgyz team off-guard by our athleticism when we picked up on the full-court press," said Trammel Chislom, the Manas team captain who scored 23 points. "They scared us at first, but I am glad we pulled it out. It feels a lot better coming out with a win."

The team captain also attributed their success to teamwork and good practice. He said despite the win, the team learned a lot from the Kyrgyz team and vice versa.
To him, the game is more a show of friendship, not a rivalry between the two teams, which was indicated when the Kyrgyz teams and their fans gathered to pose, take pictures and request autographs from the Airmen.

"It is a great opportunity for them to see us outside of the uniform, which is how they see us through the media," he said. "Once the game was over, we talked and joked, and everyone was friendly with each other. This event provided us a great way to interact with them better."

The game was followed by a show of Kyrgyz acrobatic and cultural dancers, and a ceremony involving presentation of gifts and certificates to all the participants.

"If we can continue (cooperating with the Kyrgyz sports teams), it would be a big step for the U.S. and the Transit Center to show a different view of Americans," Coach MacAllister said.