Fulfilling a lifelong dream, Ali Elmasri has returned from representing the USA Deaf Basketball team in an international tournament — the 2015 World Deaf Basketball Championships.
The Cuesta College student and Atascadero resident was selected to play on the team in the tournament in Taipei, Taiwan, from July 4 to July 12 after a tryout in Washington, D.C., last fall.
Though he saw limited playing time, the 25-year-old San Luis Obispo native said the event is one “I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
“It was such a great experience,” Elmasri said through his American Sign Language interpreter Jo Malizia. “Meeting people from different countries, and learning their different signs, getting to see how people live in Taipei, it was all very inspiring. It will always be in my mind and my heart.”
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The U.S. team won a silver medal at the tournament — just missing out on the gold after Lithuania’s point guard converted on a floater in the closing seconds.
The Lithuania player was fouled on the play and made the free throw to put his team ahead 77-74, which was the final score.
“My team was pretty upset,” Elmasri said. “Some were sad. Some were mad. Some were crying. Some were angry. One player kicked a chair. Nobody was really (signing to each other). Our coach told us to stay positive.”
The last four times the U.S. has faced off against Lithuania in international play, the European team has won, making the pill a bitter one to swallow.
But Elmasri said the team is motivated to win gold in two years at the Deaflympics (the deaf community’s version of the Olympics) in Turkey.
Elmasri said he entered games mostly when his team was winning by large margins, getting to start the second half against Australia.
He scored 10 points and dished out five assists in that one — a strong showing to argue his case for more playing time in two years.
Elmasri’s coach said he was invited back to play in the team for the Deaflympics and offered encouragement for him to continue to improve his game.
“It was so different playing over there,” Elmasri said. “It was a high level of competition. It was really physical, too. People bump and push you a lot, and the ref doesn’t call many fouls. I’m really inspired to play in Turkey in two years.”
The referees still blow a whistle on foul calls in deaf basketball, since some players have limited hearing.
But they also wave their hands to make sure the players notice play has been halted for those who can’t detect the sound of a whistle.
Some technical fouls were assessed. A ref issued Elmasri a warning when he retaliated with a push back after being bumped.
But the atmosphere wasn’t all competitive. After games, players from the various countries interacted with the American team, mingling and sharing food or drinks.
“We can’t have an in-depth conversation with deaf people from other countries because their signs are different,” Elmasri said. “But we learned how they tell the time and how they say certain things.”
In their down time, the American deaf team — with players that range from 6 feet to 6 feet 10 inches tall (Elmasri stands about 6-2) — toured the bustling city of Taipei, visiting eight-story malls and riding an elevator that travels at 600 meters per minute in one of the metropolis’ famous skyscrapers.
The weather was humid and muggy, and when the team wasn’t in the air-conditioned gym, they practiced in a sweltering gymnasium.
They beat a tough Russian team 87-83 in a nailbiter in the semifinal. And overall, the U.S. made a good showing, Elmasri said.
“It sucks that we didn’t win the gold,” Elmasri said. “But I’m happy with the silver. I can’t wait to go back overseas to play again.”