FORT POLK, La. — After dribbling her way onto the All Army and All Armed Forces basketball teams, Spc. Michelle Ambuul, of the 204th MP Company, admits to being passionate about all things basketball.
“I’ve played since I was in elementary school,” she said. “My older brother got me interested in the game: He was better than I was. It was really a friendly rivalry.
“I love the game,” she added. “It’s my passion and the one place I can get away, be myself.”
Ambuul plays not only competitively, but also for the sheer joy of the game. “I can play for hours upon hours: It’s fun and motivating. I’m an athletic individual so I love doing stuff like this. Everything about it amuses me.”
Her love of basketball even has an affect on her mood.
“It’s an adrenaline rush,” she said. “I can be in the worst mood possible and I’ll play basketball and feel so much better. If I’m stressed out, it has the ability to relieve my stress and take away my worries. It’s my passion. When I’m in a good mood, I’ll play even better than normal. When I’m in a great mood I just enjoy the physical activity.”
Ambuul’s early heroes — after all, she hails from Chicago, where the Bulls reign supreme — were Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman.
“They inspired me,” she said. “I wanted to play like them.”
Ambuul didn’t have any dreams of playing professionally. She attended college at Colorado State University-Pueblo, where she majored in exercise science, recreation, nutrition and dietitian.
Rather than going to Officer Candidate School, after college she decided to enlist in the Army.
“I wanted to work from the ground up,” she said.
She enlisted after living in Colorado Springs; though she had no Family members in the Army herself, Ambuul observed people with parents who were in the military.
“They always seemed like they had everything down pat. I wanted to put my name out for my Family.”
Ambuul heard about the All Army basketball team at Fort Polk’s Wheelock Fitness Center.
“There was a first sergeant telling me about it and a few others who had played before and encouraged me to put my name in to play and try out. They told me what forms to turn in and where to go. I met Jose Cruz-LaPorte at the center who told me exactly what to do.”
What to do consisted of an autobiography of Ambuul’s basketball experience, statistics, where she’d played and gotten picked up and what she could provide for the team.
“So I tried out for the All Army Team, made it, played and 12 players from the tournament got selected to play for the All Armed Forces Team.”
Ambuul travelled to Fort Indian Town Gap, Indiana in late February to try out, and the tryouts were strenuous, she said.
“They consisted of lots of running. It was running all the time. We’d walk to the gym, run to the gym, do morning practice and drills, break for lunch, come back and do weights, run some more, drill some more and come back at night and do more drills and then a scrimmage. It was like that for two weeks.”
Ambuul explained what it is like to try out for the All Army Team.
“When you try out, you’re trying out to play for the All Armed Forces team as well. You scrimmage against different colleges, city league teams, guys’ post teams, trying the entire time to build camaraderie as a team for the All Armed Forces team, where you play against different military players.
“It was a round robin tournament, so you’d play everyone twice: The Navy, the Marines, the Air Force and then there would be a tournament where winner takes all.”
Unfortunately, Ambuul’s team lost to the Navy during the All Armed Forces game.
“We came in second; it’s nothing to be ashamed of, but I wish we’d gone all the way.”
After the All Armed Forces game, the All Armed Forces team played in Las Vegas.
“We played a tournament there against semi-pro teams, former professional players, current professionals — just a wide variety of players.”
Ambuul relishes the time she spent in Las Vegas.
“It was so fun,” she said. “I like competition; I thrive on it. I usually play a lot better when I get in situations where I can play against others who are professional or who have played in college like I did. I loved it.”
For Ambuul, the best part was the sense of community she gained from being a part of the team.
“Being around people who are in the military like you, where you get to learn everyone’s reason for joining, knowing that we have a passion for basketball is a bonding experience. And you get your name out there. When I try out next year, it will be easier because I’ll be able to say I played All Army and All Armed Forces. I’ll know people.”
Teamwork means everything to Ambuul, who admits that it was one of the reasons playing was such an enriching experience.
“We had dedication and heart,” she said. “Everyone hurt after the first few days, and later you’d be hurting somewhere else — everywhere else — but you push through it. We all went through it.”
Ambuul thinks her Family inspires her to play as well.
“I have an enthusiasm for practice,” she said. “I’d stay out all hours of the day if I had a choice. And it’s because I have five brothers. Two are still in high school and play basketball.
“They push me more and more. Family and passion are two things I couldn’t live without.”
Ambuul also credits the Army with giving her the opportunity to pursue something about which she is so passionate.
“I love that the Army helped me do this. I never thought I’d be back playing at a competitive level again while being in the Army. That’s my dream and aspiration and it happened for me. I’m very lucky. And the more I play, the better I’ll get.”