CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Only 12 players are named to the All-Armed Forces basketball team, so it’s rare to make the cut in your first year of service.

Out of the Marine Corps, the smallest of the four service branches? When Leathernecks by the thousands are deployed in support of the global war on terror on two fronts? Rarer still.

Yet that’s the rarefied air in which Ryan McLellan dwelled during a breathtaking hoops journey — plying his point-guard trade all the way from Okinawa to Texas to Belgium.

But he insists he’s doing his duty to the country in his own way.

"I didn’t join the Marine Corps to play basketball, but that’s how it worked out," said McLellan, 24, a lance corporal from Newport, Maine.

The former Nokomis Regional High School guard works in communications with the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing on Camp Foster.

McLellan spoke during the 15th Martin Luther King Invitational Basketball Tournament, where he played alongside eight-time All-Army guard Craig Marcelin and former All-Marine swingman Yonnes Sanders on the Torii Station Knights squad.

There are times when he feels some guilt about running on the hardwood instead of through Middle East deserts. "But everybody serves in a different way. I’ll get my chance" to deploy someday, he said.

Last February, a scant two months after arriving on Okinawa, McLellan suited up for Wing in the Marine Far East Regional Tournament. Wing won its second straight title and McLellan found himself tapped to go to All-Marine camp at Cherry Point Air Station, N.C.

"They gave me a chance, sent me to camp," he said. "I got hot at the right time."

So hot, in fact, that McLellan was named to Team USA following the All-Armed Forces tournament in March.

Next came a trip to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, where McLellan and his cohorts won their first International Military Sports Council (CISM) tournament title since 1998.

"That was nice," McLellan said. "We jelled right, got pretty close as a team and played well once we were out there. That was fun. It didn’t matter who scored. You go out and have fun."

Seven months later came another trip, this time to Mons, Belgium, for the annual Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers Europe tournament, where Team USA took its third straight bronze.

All of which has made McLellan hungry for more, including back-to-back CISM titles. "Hopefully, we can do that, then go back to SHAPE in November and win a gold medal," McLellan said.

Teammates and opponents see great things for McLellan down the road.

"He has the potential to be one of the best to play Marine Corps ball," Sanders said. "He made life a lot easier for me."

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.

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