NWBA Junior Division Tournament Starts Up
Competing in his first National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) Toyota Adult and Junior Division Wheelchair Basketball National Championship, Patrick Lewis showed off his team spirit Friday morning. Earlier in the week, the 14-year-old Junior Prep Division Cincinnati Dragons team member told his mom, Ebony Lewis, that he wanted to dye his hair team colors. So, she made two ponytails, bleached each one and then dyed one green and the other purple.
“It’s pretty simple. It’s like an hour process,” Patrick Lewis says. “[I did it] to support my team.”
The No. 8 seed Dragons won their morning first-round game during the Junior Division’s opening day Friday at Wichita Hoops in Bel Air, Kan., defeating the No. 9 seed OKC Wheels of Thunder, 20-18, and moving into the quarterfinals before falling 60-10 to the No. 1 seed Kansas City Kings.
Patrick Lewis, who has a level T6 spinal-cord injury, just started playing wheelchair basketball in the fall, and it’s helped him in a handful of ways.
“It’s a fun sport. It’s helped me improve my speed, stamina and daily life needs,” he says.
His mom says it’s helped reduce his weight, made him more mobile and improved his spirits. The family has traveled to a handful of tournaments this year — South Carolina, Georgia, Indiana and Wisconsin — but none as big as the NWBA championships. Ebony Lewis says teammates have helped her son get acclimated to his new way of life.
“We learn ’cause we’re new to the spinal-cord world, to the disability world. We’ve learned a lot,” Ebony Lewis says. “His teammates are very helpful. They’ve helped him with, like, what he needs to do and keep him up-to-date on his disability, so they help each other out.”
Courage Kenny Rolling Rowdies Prep Division player Lucas Dean was also having a blast in his first NWBA Junior Division tournament. His family drove nine hours to Wichita — six hours on Wednesday and another three on Thursday.
A 12-year-old sixth grader who lives in St. Louis Park, Minn., Dean loved the atmosphere.
“It’s amazing,” says Dean, who was born with spina bifida. “It’s just you get to see different teams and, I don’t know, it’s fun playing against different teams.”
The sixth-seeded Rolling Rowdies went 1-1 Friday — winning their opening-round game, 19-5, over the 11th-seeded RHI Junior Racers to advance to the Prep Division quarterfinals before falling 39-23 to the No. 3 seed Roger C. Peace team.
Dean, who wears No. 30 in honor of his favorite player — NBA Golden State Warriors player Stephen Curry — has played wheelchair basketball since he was 6 years old. He says he loves to shoot and that he’s also been improving his passing and defense.
His father, Jay, says watching games, including those with the Varsity Division’s Minnesota Rolling Timberwolves, have helped his son, too.
“We’re learning a lot from watching the Timberwolves ’cause one day he’ll be on that team,” Jay Dean says.
Calm and collected, Jesus Villa put on a shooting show during the Adult Division’s 3-point contest.
As the second shooter in the championship round, the Adult Division II Detroit Wheelchair Pistons player stayed cool under pressure. Needing six 3-pointers to defeat teammate Andre Edwards, Villa drained 11 and took home a major prize haul at Wichita Hoops on Friday afternoon.
The 27-year-old Villa received an IC3 Skills Trainer (home version), a $1,000 discount off a RGK wheelchair, a RGK merchandise pack, Molten basketball and a Molten merchandise pack. Practice and keeping his nerves — and emotions — in check helped.
“After playing so often and putting up so many shots, it’s like you know what to do. I’ve seen, even in games, emotions, if you don’t know how to control them or manage that, it can hurt you, you know. You get too hyped, you get whatever, then it kind of gets in your way, so I just told myself take my time, you know,” says Villa, a double above-the-knee amputee who was born without tibias in his legs and had both legs amputated when he was 2 years old. “There’s a handful of games where, you know, let’s say I shoot five-for-10 three-pointers, but every time I make it is when I take my time and relax and just, you know, and trust the shot. And the ones that I miss are the ones I’m kind of off-balanced or rushed or just not how I’d normally shoot it. So, it was just, you know, you know, just knowing myself and knowing what my strengths were and setting it up and being just fundamentally sound on my shot. There’s no defense, so, there’s no reason I shouldn’t get off a good-looking shot, you know. You’re by yourself.”
Competitors each shot 25 3-pointers — five from each of five set stations (right baseline, right of the key, top of the key, left of the key and left baseline). Balls came out via the IC3 Skills Trainer machine, and players had to catch and shoot before another ball came out at them and then quickly roll over to the next spot after their five shots. If they didn’t, a ball would pass them, and they wouldn’t get the chance to shoot it.
After hitting 13 3-pointers in the tournament’s qualifying round, Villa entered as the top seed in the bracket-style competition.
He won three head-to-head competitions, including an 8-7 semifinal victory to reach the final first. Edwards had two close 4-3 victories before heating up with an 11-5 semifinal win. Once Edwards advanced to the semifinals, he wanted to win to try and face his friend.
“I would’ve let him down if I didn’t meet him in the finals,” says the 26-year-old Edwards, a Macomb, Mich., resident, who was injured in a car accident at age 4.
Villa made the clinching sixth 3-pointer at the top of the key to win the title before finishing with double digits. Edwards, 26, says the two have competitions back at home.
“I’ll be honest, he normally does [win] to be honest. But I make it hard for him, though,” says Edwards, who received a U.S. Paralympic wheelchair basketball team signed jersey from the 2021 Tokyo Paralympics and an RGK merchandise pack.
Detroit hasn’t fared as well. The No. 1 seed Wheelchair Pistons have gone 0-2 in the Division II tournament so far, losing 50-47 to the No. 8 seed Kansas City Kings and 52-48 to the No. 5 seed San Antonio ParaSport Spurs. Detroit will play for seventh place against the No. 14 seed University of Michigan Wolverines Saturday.
Villa was disappointed with that. But he’s looking forward to setting up the new shooting practice device.
“That’s a pretty cool machine. We used one in college [Southwest Minnesota State University] that helped us get a volume of shots up, so you don’t have to rebound as much or do whatever. You can just kind of take your time and you get more shots in a smaller timeframe,” Villa says. “So, it’d be nice to put it in a position where the team has access to it, so I can utilize it. But we’ll just see what happens, you know.”
The Adult Divisions (I, II and II) conclude and have their championships Saturday, while the Junior Divisions (Varsity, Prep and Junior Varsity) run until Sunday.
The No. 4 seed Charlotte Rollin’ Hornets will meet the No. 2 seed Cincinnati Royals in the Adult Division II championship at Noon on Saturday.
The No. 2 seed New York Rollin’ Knicks and the No. 4 seed Dallas Wheelchair Mavericks will meet in the Adult Division I championship game at 6 p.m. Saturday.