Wheelchair Basketball Deserves Your Attention
Hayden Audette, contributor
Basketball fans in Minnesota are well aware that plenty of high level talent has come out of this state over the past few years. You might think of a player like Jalen Suggs, who was born in St. Paul and was taken fifth overall in last year’s NBA Draft, or Paige Bueckers, who is from Edina and is currently playing for UConn at the college level. What you might not know, however, is that Minnesota has also been home to some of the top wheelchair basketball players in the nation for quite some time now.
Wheelchair basketball has grown significantly at the youth level in the United States. According to the National Wheelchair Basketball Association, over a thousand athletes play on youth teams across the country. After graduating high school, some players will end up playing in college, where there are 10 programs in total across all three NCAA divisions. This includes Southwest Minnesota State, the only college program in Minnesota. Collegiate wheelchair basketball is quite unique compared to other college sports because there are no divisions, or even conferences, due to the low number of teams. A men’s college tournament last week hosted by Auburn University featured three D1 schools in Alabama, Auburn, and Illinois, along with D3 Wisconsin-Whitewater. In able bodied college basketball, you would never see Auburn play a D3 school, and if they did, it almost certainly wouldn’t be close. In this tournament, however, Auburn beat UW-Whitewater 79-77.
Minnesota’s primary wheelchair basketball program is run through the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute (CKRI) in Golden Valley, and features teams at all levels of the sport. CKRI has produced some of the best wheelchair athletes in the country, and several players from the program have gone on to play at the college level, and even internationally in the Paralympic Games.
If you’ve never watched wheelchair basketball before, it may be easy to downplay its degree of difficulty. First, think about shooting a three pointer. College basketball three point lines are 22 feet away from the rim, and just about everyone would agree that it takes quite a lot of practice to become a skilled long distance shooter. Now think about shooting a three pointer from about the same distance while sitting down. Even some of the best able-bodied shooters in the world would likely struggle with this because of the amount of upper body strength that is required to shoot from that far out while in a chair. Some people might assume that wheelchair basketball is easier or less competitive than able-bodied basketball simply because the athletes participating have physical disabilities. From having played the sport for ten years, I know firsthand that this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Next time you see wheelchair basketball on TV, give it a watch and see for yourself the greatness inside of this sport.