“We were very busy tonight watching and cheering on Mike during the game and, at the same time, updating all the Mongolian fans,” said Puntsag, who not only serves as a consul at the Mongolian Consulate General in San Francisco , but is also an ardent Flyers fan and a bridge to his homeland of 3.4 million.
“All of Mongolia encourages him,” he said.
Although he was able to watch the game on ESPN+ in San Francisco, he said people in Mongolia — where the 1 p.m. time difference to Dayton was a warning at 8 a.m. Tuesday — weren’t. 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 youngsters, they all know Mike and were keen to see the stats and how he was playing, so we were busy with the Facebook groups, telling them everything we could.
He got much of his information from Sharavjamts Tserenjankhar, Mike’s father and friend, who was at the game with his wife, Erdenebulgan Purevsuren, and posted ongoing social media accounts. Puntsag got more from Dayton Daily News reporter Dave Jablonski, who was doing the same.
It was a historic outing for Sharavjamts, who is the first person from Mongolia to receive a Division I athletic scholarship and made everyone beam.
“It was a beautiful moment for us,” Puntsag said. “It marks a new beginning, a new page for the history of Mongolian basketball, I can say that with pride.
“Mike breaks the ice. He paves the way for young Mongolians to believe in themselves. They can say ‘Oh, a Mongolian is in the NCAA! It’s possible!'”
Puntsag admitted before the match that he was nervous about how Sharavjampts would meet the moment:
“He’s a young man. He has so much pressure on his shoulders. He doesn’t just play for himself and his team, he carries his whole country on his back.
“That’s why it was a big relief when he hit that first shot. You could tell from his face that he was relaxed. He was comfortable. He’s just not too excited. He’s capable to stay calm.
Sharavajamts scored his first of two treys on the night just 31 seconds from the start of the game. Those are the first points of the season for the 24th-ranked Flyers.
After the shot, Sharavjamts backpedaled to the floor with a “been there/done that” composure rather than a celebration for the new kids. After the game, he was equally puzzled in his assessment.
“I felt it (in) the warm-ups,” he said. “I knew this shot was going to go in, so I just took it.”
His teammate Mustapha Amzil – who had a memorable outing in his first game as a Flyer two years ago when he scored 22 points against LaSalle – said having an impact game right out of the box boosts your confidence:
“It’s definitely a good feeling. You know your place is here. You know you can do damage. I have a feeling Mike is going to have a great season.
No one was happier afterwards than Anthony Grant.
“It was a great first game for him,” said the head coach. “I thought there were a lot of things he was doing well. I think he can learn some things and he needs to improve, but I think overall it was really impressive to seeing the balance he’s played with, especially on the attacking side with what he’s been asked to do at the start of his career.
“He’s got a good feeling with this game. Great view. The way he plays 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 to make the game easier for his teammates.
The sold-out crowd of 13,407 fired for Sharavjamts from the start, whether buzzing about his deft passing ability or riding the officials every time they called him a foul, which they did four times .
Amzil spoke about Sharavjamt’s passing abilities afterwards: “It feels good because I’m on the receiving side. Mike is a great ball handler. It’s great to have a big guard who can see some angles that little guards sometimes don’t see.
Tserenjankhar said his son’s passing abilities were honed when he was young:
“From the time he started playing organized basketball at age seven or eight, he was always playing point guard and playing guys three and four years older and much bigger than him. It was not easy for him. He had to find a way to manage the ball and pass it to the other players.
The fact that he often does this with a bit of trickery and sometimes makes defenders look oblivious may have something to do with genes, laughed Tserenjankhar.
The 7-foot Tserenjankhar played with the Harlem Globetrotter about two decades ago and as Puntsay noted: “He was a legend.”
The Globetrotters billed him as “The Mongolian Shark” and even had a passing game named after him, so he knows a thing or two about hard-court hijinks.
“So yeah, maybe it was passed on to him through blood,” laughed Tserenjankhar.
The Mongolia team
Last month, Tserenjankhar and his wife moved from Mongolia to Centerville for the entire UD season to support their son.
On Monday morning, he said he offered his boy fatherly advice:
“When I was taking him back to school, I just told him to be calm and believe in himself. To just, ‘Go do what you’re doing’ and have fun on the floor.
On Monday evening, Tserenjankhar and his wife were invited to join other fans in their Loge seating area overlooking Blackburn Court. Although they weren’t in the regular parent section, their son quickly found them when he took to the field to warm up.
He made eye contact and that calmed him down, he said:
“I just know they’re there and supporting me and I can do more for myself.”
Tserenjankhar was particularly warmed when he heard what his son had said:
“I was very happy to hear him say that he feels safe with his family in the stands.
“It was not an easy decision to come here for the whole basketball season. I was Minister of Sports in Mongolia and had to give up my job, but now I’m glad I did.
Tserenjankhar said he believed there were at least five or six Mongol families in the Dayton area.
In the Bay Area, Puntsag said, there are about 6,000 Mongols. He said his consulate had 17 western states within its jurisdiction.
He said just as he thinks almost all Mongolians in America shoot 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 SPC television channel, the first Mongolian channel, sent a film crew to Dayton to make a long documentary about Sharavjamts and his hunger called “Mongolian Mike”. Shortly after the first of eight trailers were made available, it had reached 200,000 views.
The Dayton Flyers Mongolian Fans Facebook page has 9,600 followers.
Although he studied in Iowa and Denver, Puntsag said he had no connection to UD and had never even been to Ohio. But he now feels particularly connected to the Flyers and was hoping to get a ticket stub and any other mementos he could from Monday night’s historic game.
And at least once this season, he hopes to join many other Mongolian fans from across the United States and attend a Flyers game at UD Arena.
He has a Dayton Flyers t-shirt and had a red Flyers cap until his son commandeered it and now wears it himself.
As soon as our conversation ended on Monday, Puntsag said he turned his attention to ESPN to see if there were any clips from the game, better yet, if any of Mike’s assists had made the Top 10. SportsCenter games of the day.
Back at UD Arena, as he finished his press conference, Grant was asked if he had ever learned any Mongolian words.
“I didn’t,” he said with a shrug.
It was also a bit of a mistake.
He learned one:
And when it comes to Dayton Flyers basketball this season, there are perhaps few words that mean more than that.