Gaeng Makes The Right Next Play

Paralympian delivers to help Charlotte Claim NWBA Adult Division II Title

Paralympian delivers to help Charlotte Claim NWBA Adult Division II Title

After years of growing up and playing together, Paralympians Gail Gaeng and Ryan Neiswender finally have their first National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) Toyota Wheelchair Basketball National Championships title together.

With time winding down, the two friends and Charlotte Rollin’ Hornets players teamed up for the game-winning basket.

Neiswender wheeled to the right side, passed it to a driving Gaeng, and she made a short inside basket with 6.1 seconds left to lift No. 4 seed Charlotte to a 69-67 victory over the No. 2 seed Cincinnati Royals for the Adult Division II title at Wichita Hoops in Bel Aire, Kan.

Just over a minute before, Gaeng had missed two free throws that would’ve tied the game at 67. But she reminded herself of two words right after.

Gail Gaeng plays in the Division II championship game at the 2022 NWBA Toyota Wheelchair Basketball National Championships. (Photo by Christopher Di Virgilio).

 

“I was pretty bummed, pretty down on myself. But I knew ‘next play,’” says Gaeng, who scored 16 points, including 12 in the second half. “I knew we would get a great defensive stop, and then I knew when that ball got hit in my hands with Ryan’s pass, great pass, I knew that was going in.”

Game and tournament Most Valuable Player Preston Howell led Charlotte with a game-high 28 points, but the Royals slowed him down in the second half. After finishing with 20 points in the first two periods, he had eight the last two quarters.

So, Charlotte found another way to score — 2020 Paralympic men’s wheelchair basketball gold medalist Neiswender to 2016 Paralympic women’s wheelchair basketball gold medalist Gaeng. That connection worked repeatedly in the second half and helped the team pull out the win.

“We were just reading the defense right. They were jumping Ryan and were leaving me. So, instead of kind of taking that free-throw jumper, I decided to start be aggressive and kind of go in and take that lane,” says Gaeng, who played with Neiswender on the Bennett Blazers (based out of Baltimore) growing up. “And then that kind of opened up Preston on the offside. ‘Cause when they would come over and help me, that’s when Preston on the offside kind of got freed up in that second half, as well.”

After leading for most of the second half, Charlotte had to rally late. Trailing 67-65 with less than 35 seconds left, Gaeng found Adam Smith for a basket to tie the game at 67 with 32.2 seconds remaining. Cincinnati’s Jacob Counts missed a shot with 16 seconds left before Gaeng’s shot.

Cincinnati still had a final chance, but Gabriel Taylor’s inbounds pass went over the head of everyone, bounced on the court a couple times and went out of bounds as time expired.

Jamie Stanford led Cincinnati with 20 points, while Counts had 18, Taylor added 13 and Jaime Mazzi had 12. Neiswender added 15 points for Charlotte.

Charlotte defeated No. 13 seed ParaSport Spokane, 54-38, in the first round, edged out the No. 5 seed San Antonio ParaSport Spurs, 55-54, in the quarterfinals and rolled to a 51-28 victory over the No. 8 seed Kansas City Kings in the semifinals.

Cincinnati had a first-round bye, then defeated the No. 7 seed Shepherd Stealers, 68-43, in the quarterfinals and No. 6 seed ABC Medical Legends, 66-41, in the semifinals.

 

Defense, Dunnings Lift Sharks

The No. 4 seed Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Memorial Rehabilitation Sharks hung around for just long enough. Then, some intense second-half defense and raucous crowd energy helped give the team a boost to secure the National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) Toyota Adult Division III Wheelchair Basketball National Championships title Saturday afternoon.

Tournament Most Valuable Player Keygon Dunnings scored a co-game-high 24 points, including team’s final three in the final 40 seconds, as the Sharks defeated the No. 3 seed Charlotte Rollin’ Hornets, 51-48, in the championship at Wichita Hoops in Bel Aire, Kan.

Keygon Dunnings (front) puts up a shot during DIII championship play at the 2022 NWBA Toyota Wheelchair Basketball National Championships. (Photo by Christopher Di Virgilio).

“It was the atmosphere, and it was the team playing together,” says Dunnings, who went 10-of-18 from the field, including 1-for-1 from 3-point range, and had six rebounds. “We came in with a gameplay and we executed. The gameplay was to play as a team, don’t get frustrated, take it one play at a time.”

That they did.

Trailing 46-40 with 3 minutes and 35 seconds left, the Sharks finished the game on an 11-2 run.

After a Fort Lauderdale hoop, Sharks player Angela Ramirez made two baskets and then Dunnings scored to tie the game at 46 apiece with 2:20 left.

Charlotte’s Jeremy Hammond put the Rollin’ Hornets ahead 48-46, but another Ramirez basket — this one from the foul line — tied the game at 48 with 1:26 to go. Then, it was Dunnings’ turn.

After Charlotte’s Marcus Tuck missed two free throws with 59.4 seconds left, Dunnings made a layup on a breakaway with 40 seconds remaining to give the Sharks a 50-48 lead — their first of the game. Fort Lauderdale’s Joel Garcia-Raposo missed two free throws with 23.7 seconds left, but Dunnings stole an outlet pass and was fouled. Runnings hit 1-of-2 free throws to push the Sharks’ lead to 51-48 with 15.7 seconds to play.

Charlotte, though, still had a chance to tie.

Tuck missed a long jumper on the top right side with 7 seconds left, and Landon Benton grabbed the high-bouncing rebound. Benton wheeled back behind the right corner 3-point line, took a shot with 2 seconds left, and it missed off the rim as the buzzer sounded. The Sharks’ defense forced Hammond, who led the Rollin’ Hornets with 24 points and 14 rebounds, to get stuck trailing behind — leaving the Rollin’ Hornets scrambling.

Besides Dunnings, Garcia-Raposo added 12 points and 10 rebounds, while Ramirez scored 11 points. Tuck added 10 points for Charlotte, while Benton had seven.

With veteran Donnie Langford (five points) sidelined on the bench in the second half, Charlotte struggled offensively. Fort Lauderdale forced the Rollin’ Hornets into 16 turnovers, including 10 in third and fourth quarters. That scrappy defense ignited the crowd more.

“Our defense wins us the majority of our games,” Dunnings says. “I love playing with my team because it’s like a family. I can trust them, believe in them and know that they have my back. It makes the defense easy.”

Fort Lauderdale knocked off the No. 13 seed Magee Spokesmen, 40-28, in the first round, the No. 5 seed Houston Rolling Rockets, 55-28, in the quarterfinals and No. 8 seed Cleveland Cavaliers, 38-37, in the semifinals to reach the title game. Charlotte defeated the No. 14 seed Miami Heat Wheels, 54-24, in the first round, No. 11 seed Team St. Luke’s, 81-62, in the quarterfinals and No. 7 seed Las Vegas Silver Bandits, 54-48, in the semifinals to advance.

Fort Lauderdale won the Adult Division II Tournament title last year but switched to Adult Division III this year.

“Last year, we made it here and we won. But we was on the bench,” Dunnings says. “This year, the bench players started, so it meant more to us. We put in the work, we grinded it out and we came out on top.”

Old Chair, More Aggressive Anderson As Rollin’ Knicks Win DI Title

The New York Rollin’ Knicks just kept going to their bread-and-butter play.

Get the ball to Patrick Anderson — and let him do the rest.

It led them to a National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) Toyota Adult Division I Wheelchair Basketball National Championships tournament title Saturday night.

Patrick Anderson, No. 12, moves the ball during DI championship play at the 2022 NWBA Toyota Wheelchair Basketball National Championships. (Photo by Christopher Di Virgilio).

 

Anderson scored a game-high 30 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter, and had eight rebounds as the No. 2 seed New York Rollin’ Knicks hung on for a 59-53 championship win over the No. 4 seed Dallas Wheelchair Mavericks at Wichita Hoops in Bel Aire, Kan.

The 42-year-old Anderson credited his “old” chair, a 2007 RKG small wheelchair, that he brought out for the tournament to experiment with before he uses his new one.

“I generally try to kind of set up a little bit. I’m not quite as aggressive-looking for my shot normally. But I’m playing in a little different chair, faster chair,” Anderson says.

A three-time Canadian Paralympic basketball gold medalist, Anderson went 14-of-27 from the field, including 1-of-3 from 3-point range, and hit 1-of-2 free throws, as well.

He scored the team’s first eight points in the fourth and helped New York hold off a Dallas rally. Teammate Steve Serio, a two-time U.S. Paralympic gold medalist, assisted on three of Anderson’s five baskets in the period. All-Tournament Most Valuable Player Serio finished with 12 points, but Anderson thought none was bigger than his jumper that gave the Rollin’ Knicks a 54-47 lead with 5:22 remaining.

“Steve is great at a lot of things. One of the things he’s best at is giving his teammates confidence, and so I know I’ve got the green light to look for my shot and he kind of takes care of the rest, kind of thing,” Anderson says. “It’s kind of a different role for me, but it’s really fun. He makes that possible by being a steady presence out there and then when we need a tough shot, he, you know steps up.”

Dallas trailed by seven at halftime but cut the lead to three in the fourth quarter before New York closed the game on a 11-6 run.

Blake McMinn led Dallas with 18 points, while Aaron Gouge had 13 points and Ian Pierson had 10. Adryan Powell added six points and 10 rebounds. Joseph Gugliotta added eight points and six rebounds for New York.

New York only went with six players for the tournament. The Rollin’ Knicks had a first-round bye, then defeated the No. 10 seed WASA Bucks, 92-55, in the quarterfinals and No. 3 seed MedStar NRH Punishers, 67-55, in the semifinals. Dallas also had a first-round bye and defeated the No. 5 seed Mary Free Bed Pacers, 58-48, in the quarterfinals and No. 8 seed Rancho Halos, 59-46, in the semifinals.

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