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Md. hoopster's narrowly escapes Ukrainian invasion

Ukrainian and U.S. flags fly in Kyiv, Ukraine.
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Ukrainian and U.S. flags fly in Kyiv, Ukraine.

In basketball parlance, a player who guards another player extremely closely is said to employ lockdown defense, the most exceptional there is.

Well, it’s safe to say that in the days and weeks to come, no one will lockdown Maurice Creek as tightly as his mother, Pammy, now that he’s made it home to Fort Washington from Ukraine.

Maurice Creek, or Mo, as he’s more commonly known, has lived a life straight out of a spy thriller in the last few weeks, since the rumors that Russia would invade Ukraine became fact.

Creek’s experiences don’t compare to those of the more than one million Ukrainians who have seen their lives turned upside down by Vladimir Putin’s obscene aggression.

They don’t even measure the horrors that surely must be visiting WNBA star Brittney Griner, who is languishing in custody in Russia, facing a possible 10-year prison sentence for drug possession. Indeed, Griner, who like many American women play in Russia to find salaries on a level they could only dream of here in the States, may already be a pawn in a geopolitical struggle that has nothing to do with hoops. But Creek, a 31-year-old, 6-foot-5 inch guard has, in recent days, been subject to conditions starkly different than, say, those of even the lowliest NBA player.

Creek, a high school All-American, is a basketball vagabond, whose professional career has taken him from Israel to the Netherlands, Denmark and Romania since he graduated from George Washington in 2016.

He signed to play in Mykolaiv in December for a squad in the 12-team Ukrainian Men’s Basketball Super League.

At the beginning of the season, Creek was one of five Americans on the Mykolaiv team, but by late February, he was the last U.S. player on the team.

Creek practiced and played, but didn’t get paid. Though the U.S. State Department warned Americans to leave Ukraine, Creek’s team officials minimized talk of a Russian invasion and held him to his contract.

Eventually, three days before the invasion, Creek got half of what he was owed in salary and decided to leave Mykolaiv to play for a team in Qatar.

But first he had to get out of Ukraine.

Creek and an assistant coach developed a getaway strategy that had him in a shelter once the bombs began to fall, but things got so dire that Creek texted his mother a message that she interpreted as a farewell.

Creek’s plight made its way to a retired U. S. Army lieutenant colonel whom he befriended a year ago. The officer, who had been in Special Forces, devised a way to get Creek to Moldova and to safety.

That plan collapsed when bombing stranded vehicles that could have helped Creek leave. Days elapsed and Creek felt trapped and helpless.

Finally, the lieutenant colonel figured a way to get Creek from Odessa in Ukraine to Moldova and eventually to Romania. In all, a 24-hour excursion that likely felt a lot longer.

By Saturday, Mo Creek was back in Prince George’s County, getting bearhugs from his friends, well-wishers and his mom. It’s the best and most welcome lockdown defense he’ll ever face.

And that’s how I see it for this week. You can reach us via email with your questions and comments at Sports at Large at gmail.com. And follow me on Twitter at Sports at Large.

Until next week, for all of us here, I’m Milton Kent. Thanks for listening and enjoy the games.

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.