US basketball star rebounds from arrest with Iraq national team

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Baghdad’s Oil Club guard DeMario Mayfield (C) attends a team training session ahead of their match against Iraq’s Airline Club, in Baghdad on December 7, 2017. (AFP)
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Baghdad’s Oil Club guard DeMario Mayfield shoots a freethrow during a team training session ahead of their match against Iraq’s Airline Club, in Baghdad on December 7, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 27 December 2017
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US basketball star rebounds from arrest with Iraq national team

BAGHDAD: DeMario Mayfield feared his basketball career was over when he was arrested on suspicion of planning a robbery, but the former US college star is now bouncing back — in war-torn Iraq.
Originally from Georgia in America’s deep south, the 6 foot 5 inch player is the latest banner addition to Iraq’s national team after taking citizenship following a 2015 club move to Baghdad.
“I will forever be grateful for the opportunity that I have had presented to me,” Mayfield, 26, told AFP.
“It has been nothing but love since the day I arrived.”
Mayfield’s prospects looked grim back in 2013 when the one-time University of North Carolina and University of Georgia star was arrested in his home state for conspiracy to commit armed robbery.
“Right then and there I thought it was the end,” he said.
“But then I realized I just had to trust myself and dig myself out of the hole.”
In the end he pleaded guilty to the lesser offense of possessing a firearm and served 10 months on a work-release program — before eventually being given another chance by Angelo State in Texas.
But after finishing there he got no interest from clubs in the US or Europe until an offer from an unlikely source — Baghdad’s Oil Club — came along.
“I had friends in this league before I came. They persuaded me to come here. We did a lot of talking before coming,” Mayfield said.

US to Iraq 

Iraq was not the easiest sell.
The Middle East country has been wracked by violence and bloodshed since the US-led invasion of 2003.
While the capital Baghdad can often be quiet it is still frequently the target of suicide bomb attacks — often claimed by ISIS that swept through the country in 2014.
“I was very scared at first... seeing everything on the media,” Mayfield said.
It took some convincing — and a contract that made it worth his while — to get him to make the move.
Now, more than two years after his switch, Mayfield and the team that brought him to Iraq insist they have no regrets.
“He has very good skills... with good leadership on the court,” said Oil Club coach Khalil Yehya.
Last year “we were the champions, and he got the award for best professional player in the championship.”
And starring in the Iraqi league was only the start.
Mayfield’s performances drew the attention of the country’s struggling national team as it sets its eyes on qualifying for the World Cup in 2019.
“We asked the Iraqi government to give DeMario a passport so that he could join Iraq’s team,” said national basketball federation secretary Khaled Najm.
Complete with his new Iraqi citizenship, Mayfield has already been making an impact — dominating as his unfancied side beat neighboring rivals Iran in a qualifying game last month.
“I’m basically an Iraqi, an American Iraqi,” he said.

Life in Baghdad

While he has enjoyed undoubted success in Iraq, life in Baghdad can still have its drawbacks.
Mayfield lives in a hotel room and has had to leave his family — including his young son — back in the States because of security concerns.
The language is also an issue, even though he says he has learnt the basic basketball terms in Arabic to help him out on the court.
He has a favorite cafe where he goes to eat pastries and drink tea and has friends to hang out with.
In the streets he gets recognized by fans of his adopted homeland — reminding him just how far he has come in the past few years.
“My journey with the Iraqi team has been something special,” he said.


New Zealand’s Crusaders lose for the first time since mosque shootings

Updated 24 March 2019
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New Zealand’s Crusaders lose for the first time since mosque shootings

  • The Christchurch-based Crusaders saw their year-long, 19-game winning streak ended in Sydney by the New South Wales Waratahs
  • The Crusaders have been asked by fans to change their name following last week's terror mosques attack that killed at least 50 worshippers

PRETORIA, South Africa: The Crusaders lost for the first time this season and the Chiefs won for the first time, shaking up Super Rugby at the top and the bottom of the standings on Saturday.
In their first game since the mosque shootings in their home city eight days earlier, the Christchurch-based Crusaders saw their year-long, 19-game winning streak ended in Sydney by the New South Wales Waratahs.
Wallabies fullback Israel Folau sealed the Waratahs’ 20-12 win and equaled Doug Howlett’s record of 59 Super Rugby tries when he followed up on a high kick and reacted quickest to score the home team’s third try in the 73rd minute. The Waratahs led 15-7 for most of the second half before Folau ensured there was no way back for the Crusaders.
The two-time defending champions’ first loss in a year was followed by another serious surprise in round six when the Hamilton-based Chiefs, winless and bottom of the overall standings, upset the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria.
The Chiefs didn’t just win. They hammered the Bulls 56-20 and seven tries to two. There were doubles by winger Solomon Alaimalo, center Alex Nankivell, and captain Brodie Retallick as the Chiefs, who once lost a Super Rugby final 61-17 at Loftus, produced a spectacular turnaround in form.
The Crusaders’ loss meant the Hurricanes drew level with them on points at the top of the New Zealand conference. The Lions, the losing finalists the last three years, moved a point behind the Crusaders in the overall standings after beating the Sunwolves in Singapore.
The Sunwolves were on the board first in that game through a penalty try which saw Lions wing Sylvian Mahuza yellow-carded for a deliberate knock down.
The Lions were inspired by hooker Malcolm Marx, who scored two tries and came up with numerous crucial turnovers in the 37-24 win. That capped a miserable couple of days for the Tokyo-based Sunwolves, who learned on Friday they would be cut from Super Rugby at the end of next season.
Also, the Hurricanes beat the Stormers 34-28, and the Sharks beat Melbourne Rebels 28-14 to both gain ground.
The Waratahs made a fast start against the Crusaders, scoring tries through lock Jeb Holloway and wing Cameron Clark to lead 12-0 after as many minutes. They then kept steady defensive pressure on the Crusaders who made an uncharacteristic 18 handling errors.
The Waratahs were able to pin the Crusaders within their half and those errors cost the champions their usual continuity.
“Looking up at the board I see we had 46 percent of possession so we’re building wins off defense,” Waratahs captain Michael Hooper said. “I’m really happy that we were able to get tries when we can and then were able to build a big wall to stop these guys.”
The Crusaders were playing their first game in two weeks after last weekend’s scheduled fixture against the Highlanders was canceled in the wake of the shootings at two mosques in Christchurch which left 50 dead. On Saturday at the Sydney Cricket Ground, the Crusaders and Waratahs players stood together silently before the game, arm in arm, to remember the victims.
Winger Wes Goosen scored two second-half tries and Beauden Barrett contributed 14 points as the Hurricanes rallied to beat the Stormers 34-28.
The match presented a stark contrast in styles between the Hurricanes, who lacked a reliable set-piece and tried to play the game at pace, and the Stormers, who sought to slow play and control possession through a powerful forward pack.
The Hurricanes finally emerged on top, snatching the lead with a try to Barrett 10 minutes from fulltime and outscoring the Stormers by five tries to three. The lead changed hands five times in a close match in which neither side managed to exert complete control.
“From the outcome point of view it was good, we were certainly after that win,” Barrett said. “But there were moments there where we were frustrated.”