Sideline Cancer has captured the hearts of Midstate basketball fans with its remarkable stories fighting pancreatic cancer and inspiring generations of basketball players. But few stories are more remarkable on the team than that of its star player, Mo Creek, escaping a war to play in this year’s TBT.

Once you meet Mo, you can’t forget him. His gentle spirit and love for the game caught the eye of a Fairfield AAU basketball coach Erik Nordberg, who ended up saving his life.

Playing professional basketball overseas, Mo Creek joined NMC Mikolaiv in January 2022. By February, Russian forces invade the country with Mo trapped in Ukraine.

As his city was shelled with bombs, Mo sent his parents a goodbye text message saying “I love you and thank you for the prayers.”

“It felt like death,” said Pammy Morgan, Mo’s mother. “I just dropped to my knees and I screamed and a cried.”

Without a U.S. Embassy presence, Mo’s options for leaving the country were limited.

“Our son is stuck in the middle of a war and we cannot just reach out,” Morgan said.

Mo’s dream professional basketball career, quickly turned into a nightmare. He became the only member of the team stuck in the country, with governments beginning to restrict travel.

“I feared for my life every day,” Mo said, spending his nights inside a bunker or hiding on the floor of his apartment.

Mo needed a miracle, or perhaps a man in his basement in Fairfield, Adams County.

“Conflict over there with the Russians is something that I had trained for for years,” said Erik Nordberg. The Midstate man spent 23 years in the Green Beret U.S. Army Special Forces.

Nordberg specialized in extraction missions in Europe while in the Green Berets. He knew if anyone was going to be able to help Mo escape Ukraine, it would be himself.

“The Green Beret motto is De Oppresso Liber,” Nordberg said. “It’s Latin [meaning] to free the oppressed.”

So Mo became Erik’s mission from over 5000 miles away.

“He meant something to a lot of people and I was going to make sure he got out,” Nordberg said.

Success was the only option. Erik assembled a network of International Special Forces units and planned a series of five different extraction plans.

“Every element had to be planned and we had to have backups,” Nordberg said.

Mo’s town of Mikolaiv was the next one the Russians would capture.

“Based on my understanding of how Russians fight I felt the best option was to go through fastest route which was not necessarily the safest route,” Nordberg said.

The plan was for Mo to get to the Moldovian border. But the first few plans fell through, a taxi driver didn’t show up, then a bus ride fell through. There was no where to buy a car, and it began to seem like Mo was stuck with Russian forces closing in.

“Wer’e to the point where I’m trying to figure out [if] I [need to] teach Mo to hotwire a car and how do I do that over the phone?” Nordberg pondered.

The fifth option finally came through, Mo had a coach whose family was driving to the border. He jumped in.

“I could just feel the energy in that car, as if every body is frightened,” Mo said. “Even the driver that had to get us to the border was terrified the whole ride.”

“I would send him pictures from the maps,” Nordberg said. “‘Hey, Mo! This is where we just saw a bombing in the road.'”

“That road to get to the Moldovia border was one of the most terrifying road trips of my life,” Mo said.

As Mo made the 26 hour journey to cross out of Ukraine, Erik was on the phone every step of the way.

“He felt like me on the other side of it,” Mo said of their conversations, which happened every 30 minutes. “You got through things but you don’t want to panic. You keep your cool and keep your calm. That’s how he was and that’s what kept me calm.”

After a drive through a war zone and a half a dozen flights, Mo touched down at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, D.C.

“The terminal kind of stopped,” Nordberg said of the reunion. “Time stopped for like a minute.”

Mo reunited with his parents, friends and his Sideline Cancer family.

“It was the feeling of love and I didn’t have that,” Mo said.

“Not the hardest, not the easiest but the most memorable [mission],” Nordberg said. “This was the most worthwhile mission I’ve ever been on.”

Basketball brought Mo into a nightmare situation, but basketball was also his savior.

“They got my life back,” Mo said of his Sideline Cancer family. “I thought my life was going to be gone.”

“There were just so many pieces to it that it was finally mission complete,” Nordberg said. “I was finally able to say mission accomplished.”