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‘Betio Bastards’ get bounce from basketball in Habbaniyah

24 Jul 2006 | Lance Cpl. Ray Lewis

Shaquille O’Neal would love to be in the “heat” here.

That’s because the Marines of 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment have their own fully functional basketball court within the confines of the camp.

They never imagined such hoop dreams when 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment passed the camp over to them July 24.

“When I got here, I really didn’t expect the basketball court,” said Cpl. Antonie L. Sims, a field radio operator.

The 21-year-old Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran said when he saw the court his first thought was, “I’m going to spend a lot of time here.”

The court means more to Sims than other Marines here because it helped him stay out of trouble in his hometown of Richmond, Va.

It was his glory road.

“Where I grew up, people were getting arrested everyday and put behind bars but I decided to play basketball to keep my head low,” he said.

He isn’t the only one with a passion for the game here.

“I love to play basketball,” said Lance Cpl. Omar O. Bigham, a supply clerk, who can frequently be seen playing a pick-up game.

The 18-year-old from Atlanta, Ga., has been playing all his life and he says he’ll play on this court all day and all night.

“It’s PT, fun and if you win, its bragging rights around the camp,” he said.

Some Marine leaders think the basketball court is a good reward for a job well done.

“They work hard all day,” said 27-year-old Staff Sgt. Mitchell Arnold, the battalion’s radio chief, from McKinney, Texas.  “This shows them that we care about them.  It’s centrally located so everyone can get to it.  The court helps us get away from what we got to deal with from day to day.”

The battalion recently arrived in Habbaniyah as part of Regimental Combat Team 5.  They’ll help train and assist Iraqi Security Forces and conduct counter-insurgency operations.  They’re scheduled to be in Iraqi for about seven months. 

Most of that time, they know, will be spent on the streets.  But what spare time they have, they’ll spend on the court.

“Even though you’re so far away from home, you can still do things here that remind you of home,” Sims said.