“We were very busy tonight watching and cheering for Mike during the game and, at the same time, giving news back to all the Mongolian fans,” said Puntsag, who not only is a consul at the Consulate General of Mongolia in San Francisco, but also is an ardent Flyers fan and a bridge to his homeland of 3.4 million people.
“All of Mongolia is cheering for him,” he said.
While he was able to watch the game on ESPN+ in San Francisco, he said people in Mongolia -- where the 13-hour time difference from Dayton made for an 8 a.m. Tuesday tip off --were not.
“Unfortunately they couldn’t watch it live on TV, so they were waiting for any news we could give them,” Puntsag said by phone late Monday night. “Especially the young people, they all know of Mike and were eager for the stats and how he was playing. So we were busy with Facebook groups, telling them everything we could.”
He got much of his information from Sharavjamts Tserenjankhar, Mike’s dad and his friend, who was at the game with his wife, Erdenebulgan Purevsuren, and posted running accounts on social media. Puntsag got more from Dave Jablonski, the Dayton Daily News beat reporter, who was doing the same.
It was a historic outing for Sharavjamts, who is the first person from Mongolia ever to receive a Division I athletic scholarship and that has everyone back home beaming.
“It was a beautiful moment for us,” Puntsag said. “This marks a new beginning, a new page for Mongolian basketball history, I can proudly say.
“Mike is breaking the ice. He’s paving the way for Mongolian young people so they can believe in themselves. They can say ‘Oh, a Mongolian guy is in the NCAA! It is possible!’”
Puntsag admitted before the game he was nervous about how Sharavjampts would meet the moment:
“He’s a young guy. He has so much pressure on his shoulders. He’s not only playing for himself and his team, he’s carrying his whole country on his back.
“That’s why it was a big relief when he hit that that first shot. You could see in his face he was relaxed. He was comfortable. He just doesn’t get too excited. He’s able to stay calm.”
Sharavajamts made that first of his two treys on the night just 31 seconds into the game. They were the first points of the season for the No. 24 ranked Flyers.
After the shot, Sharavjamts backpedaled down the floor with ‘been there/done that” composure rather than some new kid celebration. After the game he was just as nonplussed in his assessment.
“I was feeling it (in) the warmups,” he said. “I knew that shot was going to go in, so I just took it.”
Teammate Mustapha Amzil – who had memorable outing in his first game as a Flyer two years ago when scored 22 points against LaSalle – said having an impact game right out of the box boosts your confidence:
“It’s a good feeling for sure. You know you belong here. You know you can do damage. I feel like Mike is going to have a great season.”
No one was more pleased afterward than Anthony Grant.
“That was a great first game for him,” the head coach said. “I thought there were a lot of things he did well. I think there are some things he’ll be able to learn from and he has to improve on, but I think overall it was really impressive to see the poise he played with, especially on the offensive end with what he’s being asked to do this early in his career.
“He has a great feel for this game. Great vision. The way he plays the game of basketball is, to me, the way it’s supposed to be played in terms of sharing the ball and understanding how to make plays and how to make the game easier for his teammates.”
The sold-out crowd of 13,407 was pulling for Sharavjamts from the start, whether it was buzzing about his deft passing ability or riding the officials any time they called a foul on him, which they did four times.
Amzil talked about Sharavjamts passing abilities afterward: “It feels good because I’m on the receiving end. Mike is a great ball handler. It’s awesome having a big guard who can see some angles that smaller guards don’t see sometimes.”
Tserenjankhar said his son’s passing abilities where honed when he was a youngster:
“From the time he started playing organized basketball at seven or eight, he was always playing point guard and going against guys three and four years older and much bigger than him. It wasn’t easy for him. He had to find a way to handle the ball and get it to other players.”
That he often does it with a bit of trickery and sometimes makes defenders look unware may have something to do with genes, Tserenjankhar chuckled.
The 7-foot Tserenjankhar played with the Harlem Globetrotter some two decades ago and as Puntsay noted: “He was a legend.”
The Globetrotters billed him as “The Mongolian Shark” and even had a passing play named after him, so he knows a thing or two about hardcourt hijinks.
“So yeah maybe it passed down through blood to him,” Tserenjankhar laughed.
Last month Tserenjankhar and his wife moved from Mongolia to Centerville for the entire UD season to give their son support.
Monday morning he said he offered his boy some fatherly advice:
“When I was driving him back to school, I just told him to be calm and believe in himself. To just, ‘Go do what you do’ and have fun on the floor.”
Monday night Tserenjankhar and his wife were invited to join some other fans in their Loge seating area overlooking Blackburn Court. Although they weren’t in the regular parents’ section, their son quickly found them when he took the court for warmups.
He made eye contact and that calms him, he said:
“I just know they’re here and they got my back and I can do ‘me’ more.”
Tserenjankhar was especially warmed when he heard what his son had said:
“I was very happy to hear him say it feels safe for him with his family in the stands.
“It was not an easy decision to come here for the entire basketball season. I was the Minister of Sport in Mongolia and I had to give up my job, but now I’m glad I did it.”
Tserenjankhar said he thinks there are a least five or six Mongolian families in the Dayton area.
In the Bay Area, Puntsag said, there are some 6,000 Mongolians. He said his consulate has 17 western states in its jurisdiction.
He said just as he believes almost all Mongolians in the America are pulling for UD because of Sharavjamts and he said the Flyers have a large and ever-growing fan base in Mongolia itself:
“All of Mongolia knows the Dayton Flyers. And they want to know everything they do.”
The television channel SPC, the Mongolian premier channel, sent a film crew to Dayton to do an expansive documentary on Sharavjamts and his faimly entitled “Mongolian Mike.” Soon after the first of eight trailers was made available, it had gotten to 200,000 views.
The Dayton Flyers Mongolian Fans Facebook page has 9.6 thousand followers.
Although he studied in Iowa and Denver, Puntsag said he has no ties to UD and never has even been to Ohio. But he now feels especially tied to the Flyers and had hoped to get a ticket stub and whatever other souvenirs he could from Monday night’s historic game.
And at least once this season he hopes to join many other Mongolian fans from around the U.S. and attend a Flyers game at UD Arena.
He has a Dayton Flyers T-shirt and did have a red Flyers cap until his son commandeered it and now wears it himself.
As soon as our conversation would end Monday, Puntsag said he turning his attention back to ESPN to see if there were clips from the game of, better yet, it one of Mike’s passes had made SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays of the day.
Back at UD Arena, as he was finishing his press conference, Grant was asked if he’s learned any Mongolian words yet.
“I have not,” he said with shrug.
That was also a bit of a misstatement.
He has learned one:
And when it comes to Dayton Flyers basketball this season, there may be few words that mean any more than that one.