But once there, the team was ready to make history. With a 65-64 win against the India national team, the Afghan team becomes the first basketball team in the country’s history to win a gold medal at an Olympic event.
“We had a lot of the Olympic committee members there, and they were telling us how Afghanistan was so proud,” Asefi said. “People were celebrating in the streets, and President (Hamid) Karsai wants to meet us. It’s a pretty big win for a war-torn country.”
For the past year, Asefi, a 2004 graduate of West High, has been a starting guard for the Afghan team, which is based in Southern California and is made up mostly of Americans who have ties to the country, plus four Afghan players. Asefi, who was the West team’s most valuable player in his senior year, was born and raised in California, the son of Afghan parents who moved here in 1980 following the Soviet invasion of their country.
The Afghanistan team won the final Feb. 6 against India, 65-64, on a last-second shot, facing India for the second time in the tournament as the Afghan team went 5-0 for the event.
“It was a big accomplishment, because we had a bunch of guys that got sick from the food and the water,” Asefi said. “Myself and three other starters were in the hospital the night before the gold-medal game.”
The Afghan team led the gold medal game 44-35 at the half, but India took a 64-63 lead at the end before Afghanistan team captain Nafi Mashriqui made the go-ahead shot.
“It was like a storybook ending,” Asefi said. “They went up by one, and our big guy made a hook shot. There were about five seconds left, and they called a timeout. They tried to inbound the ball and I stole it. Time ran out and the game was over.”
It was one of seven gold medals that Afghanistan claimed in the eight-country event. India led in the medal totals with 174 medals, including 90 gold medals.
The gold medal is just one step on the path toward the team’s goal of qualifying for the 2012 Olympics in London. The final game against India was the first time the Afghan team, established 30 years ago, participated in an Olympic-level championship game.
“This win will help us get into that tournament,” Asefi said, adding that the next step for the team is the FIBA (International Basketball Federation) Asian Champions Cup in Doha, Qatar, at the end of May.
“We have to do well in Qatar, and if we can do well in the Asian games, hopefully we can get a bid to get into the Olympics. We’ve just got to stay hungry.”