Some of the best Division I teams in the NWBA brought their A-Game to Phoenix from January 24-26, in preparation for the upcoming Championships in March.
The people who maintain the hardwood floors at Ability360 Sports and Fitness Center in Phoenix were in for a lot of work on Monday. That’s because the top 12 wheelchair basketball teams in the nation played their hearts out in a series of friendly matches during the 21st Annual Wheelchair Basketball Tournament.
Although the event has no overall champion, it is still called a tournament, and is a series of matches to promote the sport, especially to those who have never seen it before.
“Yeah, I thought it was awesome”, says newfound fan Erin Boyle. “I am shocked how it feels like a contact sport. It makes the NBA look tame. It’s so much more physical.”
The Division I teams that were represented are NRH Punishers, NMCSD Wolfpack, Albuquerque Kings, The Dallas Wheelchair Mavericks (No. 2 ranked team in the NWBA), Mary Free Bed Pacers, Utah Wheelin’ Jazz, Tucson Lobos, The Road Warriors, Seattle Sonics, New York Rollin’ Knicks (No. 1 ranked team in the NWBA), also represented in the tournament this year were The Phoenix Wheelchair Suns, who are not a D-I team.
Justin Walker (class 2.5), who plays for the Phoenix Wheelchair Suns, relished in the fact that his team was acting as the home team.
“We take a lot of pride, not only are we the home team, but we are a division lower than most of the teams that are here.” Walker says, “So when we play against them, it’s more of a sense of pride and a sense of hunger that we are looking to go after.”
According to NMCSD Wolfpack’s Megan Blunk (class 2.0), she loves playing in this tournament every year.
“This is one of my favorite tournaments to come to,” Blunk says. “It’s a great facility and how they run it, it’s a great environment to be in.”
For the No. 1 ranked New York Wheelin’ Knicks, this is what players like Martinez Johnson (class 3.5) are calling “a tune-up” for the National Championships.
“There’s a lot of really good teams here, it’s a really good way for teams to calibrate and see where they really are with other teams around the country.” Johnson says, “Nationals will be here before we know it. We’re only six or seven weeks before the event.”
For veterans of the game like Road Warrior’s Marcus Oden (class 4.0), after 25 seasons he keeps learning from every game that he plays. He learned during this tournament what will keep his team winning.
“Patience,” Oden says. “You know, just patience goes a long way, if we can be patient in this game, we can win. I just learned if you play patient, keep your head down and be physical you can win.”
As far as patience goes, the players in the Division I of the NWBA will not have to wait much longer for the Championships. They will be held in Wichita, KS from March 12-14