US men’s wheelchair basketball national team practices in Omaha

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June 17th, 2013

Omaha, NE – The 20 man roster for the U.S. Paralympics Men’s National Wheelchair Basketball National Team was announced June 6.

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In preparation for the Americas Zone World Championship Qualifier in Bogotá, Colombia, the team has numerous training events and practices scheduled between now and August. In Bogotá the U.S. must finish as one of the top four teams to secure a spot in the 2014 World Championship in South Korea.

U.S. Paralympics head coach Ron Lykins, who also coaches the University of Missouri wheelchair basketball team, has the tough job of trimming the roster from 20 to 12 by July 1.

Coach Ron Lykins is in his first year coaching the men's U.S. team, but has coached in three different women's Paralympics. (Photo courtesy KVNO News)

Coach Ron Lykins is in his first year coaching the men’s U.S. team, but has coached in three different women’s Paralympics. (Photo courtesy KVNO News)

“We have a lot to work with here,” Lykins said. “(We are) really happy with the type of players that we have and the quantity of the players that we had to choose from. Right now, the key thing is just trying to get them to play the way we want. We have made a lot of positive strides already.”

Wheelchair basketball players are doing things no one else thought was possible, according to Lykins. He said watching players tilt on two wheels as they go up for a shot or a rebound, ball handling, utilizing skill shooting and stopping on a dime to change direction are just a few of the things people will notice when they attend a wheelchair basketball game.

“I think what you are seeing is ability out here,” Lykins said. “All the wheelchair is when these guys are playing is a piece of athletic equipment. I think people, if they have never seen the game, they are thinking ‘okay they are in hospital chairs’, ‘it’s going to be this really slow paced game’, ‘guys can’t do much’, (but) you see guys (getting) knocked down, hop back up while they are strapped into their chair. It kind of opens your eyes. You see that the chair doesn’t do anything to prevent them from playing. It’s just another extension of them and they’ve learned how to use that to make them the best player the can be.”

Lykins, has coached the U.S. women’s team in the last three Paralympics (2004, 2008 and 2012). This will be his first year coaching the men’s team. Lykins said his coaching staff is working hard with the players to implement his game plan for Bogotá.

Matt Scott was on the 2007 US team that won the gold medal at  the Pan-American games (Photo courtesy KVNO News)

Matt Scott was on the 2007 US team that won the gold medal at the Pan-American games (Photo courtesy KVNO News)

Paul Schulte, a three time Paralympian, knows the importance of training in the weeks before a qualifier. He said every practice is important to gelling together as a squad. Schulte also said he was impressed with the facilities the University of Nebraska Omaha had to offer and with Omaha in general.

“This is lovely, this is lovely,” Schulte said. “(I) haven’t been here before, but the facilities and the people are awesome. It’s just a great opportunity for us to get together. It’s a great centralized location for us to come, train real hard and hit it in preparation for qualifier.”

Schulte said he is surrounded by competitors on the team and that is something that helps him fight to get better every practice.

“We get together and we play hard,” Schulte said. “It’s neat to meet so many guys that kind of chose to reject feelings of self-pity, reject feelings of being concerned about the future and to really stick their neck out there and go for something and be fantastic. Now, when we get together we don’t talk about that kind of stuff. All we want to talk about is ball, and ‘who won?’ and how to do better. But I think something that is very universal is how we kind of put the past behind us, focus on what we have and what can control and then choose a very tall mountain to climb and do it together.”

Another player, Matt Scott, agrees that preparation is a key time for a team to take shape and apply strategies through repetition.

“We get new faces, some new blood, and some young talent. And right now I’d say we are just getting comfortable with each other, so right now I’d say that’s the biggest challenge,” Scott said.

Scott, the wily veteran, plays professionally overseas for Galatasaray in Istanbul. Scott once scored 46 points in a game while playing in Turkey, and he boasts both NIKE and Ralph Lauren sponsorship. But Scott wasn’t one to mince words about what he was looking for.

“We just won a bronze medal in the 2012 Paralympics, so we are very, very proud of that,” Scott said. “But we are trying to build off of that. The bronze medal is pretty, but our goals are a lot higher than that. So we want to pull gold.”

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