Sweet Return

After COVID-19 canceled last year’s NWBA Toyota Junior Wheelchair Basketball National Championships, the youth are back this year

After COVID-19 canceled last year’s NWBA Toyota Junior Wheelchair Basketball National Championships, the youth are back this year

 

Gianni Quintero felt that adrenaline rush again while playing in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) Toyota Adult & Junior Wheelchair Basketball National Championships.

Gianni Quintero, 13, competes for the Bucks at the 2021 Toyota NWBA National Championships in Wichita, Kan. (Photo by Christopher Di Virgilio).

So much so that the 13-year-old WASA (Milwaukee) Junior Bucks Prep Division player was still shaking from all the nervous energy after the team’s first game and victory Friday morning at Wichita Hoops in Wichita, Kan.

But it sure was sweet to be playing in the tournament again after it was canceled last year because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“I’m just super nervous about every single game,” says Quintero, a Milwaukee resident who was diagnosed with transverse myelitis at age 6 and is paralyzed on one side from his left hip down. “I don’t know why. It just happens to me a lot.”

The No. 2 seed WASA Junior Bucks finished 2-0 in the opening two rounds of the Prep Division tournament and advanced to the semifinals, as the Junior Divisions (Varsity, Junior Varsity, Junior Varsity NIT and Prep) started play Friday. The championships continue through the weekend, with the Adult Division title games Saturday and Junior Division ones on Sunday.

The Bucks defeated the No. 7 seed BlazeSports Junior Hawks, 36-26, in a first-round game, followed by the No. 3 seed New York Rolling Fury, 36-21, in the quarterfinals to advance to Saturday afternoon’s Junior Prep Division semifinals.

For Quintero and his family, it’d been a frustrating, long wait.

Gianni Quintero, 13, (left) competes for the Bucks at the 2021 Toyota NWBA National Championships in Wichita, Kan. (Photo by Christopher Di Virgilio).

 

Last summer, while they were finishing packing to head to Wichita, they found out the Junior Division championships had been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were all setting up, getting ready to come down here, and it said it was canceled, like, at midnight,” Quintero says. “I was devastated. I was mad. It was not fun.”

Quintero’s mother, Tiela, was heartbroken for her son and his teammates. They were ranked 14th in the nation last year and had played their way into the tournament.

“They worked hard, and I just felt bad for them ’cause they all got, like, really sad and everything. It crushed me just to see him being told that it was canceled at the last minute due to COVID,” Tiela Quintero says. “And being in the house this whole year and virtual school and not seeing your friends, not being able to do things, you know, it was rough on the kids. So, we started nighttime practices outdoors, masks and everything, so that the kids could get some fresh air and be with each other and just kept it going. Let them know that next year is another year to come back.”

The tournament has already been a success for Junior Varsity Division Kansas City (Mo.) Kings player Elliott Murphy, too.

Junior Varsity Division Kansas City (Mo.) Kings player Elliott Murphy (center) at the 2021 Toyota NWBA National Championships. (Photo by Christopher Di Virgilio).

 

With No. 7 seed Kansas City trailing by double-digits in its first-round game against the No. 10 seed BlazeSports Junior Hawks (White), Murphy started playing with more emotion — loud yells after baskets, fist pumps in the air after defensive stops and nearly wheeling into the bench area to save a loose ball — and helped lead the team to a 51-44 comeback victory.

“I just wanted to keep the team up. I saw the team’s energy going down when we were down 11 and once the team’s energy goes down, we all go down,” says Murphy, who was born with spina bifida and has L1 and T12 spinal-cord injuries (SCI). “So, I wanted to keep that up. Yeah, we won, so I think it worked.”

Kansas City finished 1-1 Friday, falling to No. 2 seed BlazeSports Junior Hawks (Red) 58-36 in the second round.

Last year, the Kings would’ve been the No. 31 seed, competing in the Junior Varsity NIT and being the second to last team in, before the tournament was canceled. This year, their record and teamwork has improved.

“Last year, we were just taking our shots, looking for just ourselves. We were working for ourselves. We weren’t working as a team,” Murphy says. “This year, we’re working as a whole unit.”

Meanwhile, Caleb Roach was just happy to be back together with his team — the Nebraska Red Dawgs — in the Junior Varsity Division.

When COVID-19 canceled last year’s tournament, the Red Dawgs were seeded fourth in the Varsity Division. Roach was depressed that there wasn’t going to be a tournament.

Caleb Roach (left) was just happy to be back together with his team, the Nebraska Red Dawgs at the 2021 Toyota NWBA National Championships. (Photo by Christopher Di Virgilio).

 

“It got pretty bad. I didn’t want to go outside or anything, really bummed out, got down. Then, I got into the gym, started working and ready for the season,” says the 15-year-old Roach, who sustained a T12 SCI as a passenger in a 2011 auto accident in St. Joseph, Mo. “I condition a lot. I put up around 300 to 400 shots a day, lift sometimes just to get my strength up, agility stuff.”

This year, Nebraska entered as a fifth seed in the Junior Varsity Division. But the Red Dawgs split their games — defeating the No. 12 seed Lakeshore Lakers, 51-41, in the opening round before falling to the No. 4 seed Charlotte Rollin’ Hornets, 66-43, in their second game.

“We were kind of bummed out ’cause we weren’t able to make it to the final four. But we’re ready for tomorrow,” says Roach, a St. Joseph, Mo., resident. “We’re ready to get fifth place. We’re ready to take it all the way, win the rest of all our games the rest of the tournament.”

Caleb Roach is happy to be back together with his team, the Nebraska Red Dawgs at the 2021 Toyota NWBA National Championships. (Photo by Christopher Di Virgilio).

 

So is Quintero, as he hopes to help get the WASA Junior Bucks to Sunday’s Junior Prep Division title game.

“I like all the tournaments,” Quintero says. “But the reason I like nationals more is because everybody at nationals goes their hardest. They go their fastest.”

HIGHLIGHT OF THE DAY

After losing on a buzzer-beater Thursday, the Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Sharks won on Friday afternoon. Manny Rodriguez got a second chance. And he made the most of it.

Rodriguez rebounded his short missed shot in traffic with less than 3 seconds left and scored on a putback attempt as time expired to lift Fort Lauderdale to a 60-58 victory over the ABC Medical Legends in Friday afternoon’s early round robin Adult Division II game.

Manny Rodriguez, #33, helped bring his team to victory with a buzzer-beating shot. (Photo by Christopher Di Virgilio).

 

“I was not expecting to miss the first one at all. I felt the pressure in that moment. And I’m glad the ball bounced to me, and I was able to get it and put it [up] again and try it again,” says the 57-year-old Rodriguez, who had his right leg amputated 11 years ago because of peripheral vascular disease. “That second shot was more comfortable than the first one.”

Tied at 58 with 10 seconds left, Fort Lauderdale (2-1) called a timeout to set up a play. Then, the ABC Medical Legends (2-1) countered a timeout, too.

Rodriguez says he was originally told to set a screen for one of his teammates to shoot it behind him, but after the timeout, coach Lemuel Nelson realized Rodriguez had a shorter guy on him and changed the play to get the ball to Rodriguez. It worked.

On Thursday, the Detroit Wheelchair Pistons defeated Fort Lauderdale, 73-71, in overtime on Jesus Villa’s steal and layup buzzer-beater. But this win helped Fort Lauderdale earn the No. 1 seed.

“Karma, probably,” says Rodriguez, laughing. “Everything counts. And I got a great team, got heart, got speed.”

ADULT DIVISION TITLE GAMES SET

After Friday night’s Adult Division semifinals, the championship games are set for Saturday. And all three will involve the top two seeds.

In Division I, the No. 1 seed Dallas Wheelchair Mavericks will meet the No. 2 seed WASA Bucks at 4 p.m. Saturday. Dallas defeated the No. 3 seed Tampa Bay Strong Dogs 85-51 in the semifinals, while the WASA Bucks defeated the No. 2 seed NMSCD Wolf Pack 85-70 in the other semifinal.

The No. 1 seed Fort Lauderdale Sharks will take on the No. 2 seed ABC Medical Legends in the Division II championship at 2 p.m. Saturday. Fort Lauderdale defeated No. 4 seed Detroit 74 71, while ABC Medical beat No. 3 seed OKC Wheels of Thunder 68-49 in Friday night’s semifinals.

In Division III, the top two seeds — the No. 1 seed Charlotte Rollin’ Hornets and No. 2 seed Lakeshore Storm — will meet for the title at 12 p.m. Saturday. Top-seeded Charlotte defeated the No. 4 seed Cleveland Wheelchair Cavaliers 58-35 in Friday’s first semifinal, while the No. 2 seed Lakeshore Storm knocked off the No. 3 seed Houston Rollin’ Rockets 49-35 in the second semifinal.

Results
Toyota NWBA National Wheelchair Basketball Championships
Friday
At Wichita Hoops Wichita, Kansas
Adult Division
Division I
Quarterfinals

No. 3 Tampa Bay Strong Dogs 58, No. 2 Kansas City Kings 51

No. 2 NMSCD Wolf Pack won by forfeit over No. 3 seed Austin Rec’ers

Semifinals

No. 1 Dallas Wheelchair Mavericks 85, No. 3 Tampa Bay Strong Dogs 51

No. 2 WASA Bucks 85, No. 2 NMSCD Wolf Pack 70

Championship

No. 1 Dallas Wheelchair Mavericks vs. No. 2 WASA Bucks, 4 p.m. Saturday

Division II

OKC Wheels of Thunder 64, Detroit Wheelchair Pistons 50

Fort Lauderdale Sharks 60, ABC Medical Legends 58

Semifinals

No. 2 ABC Medical Legends 68, No. 3 OKC Wheels of Thunder 49

No. 1 Fort Lauderdale Sharks 74, No. 4 Detroit Wheelchair Pistons 71

Championship

No. 1 Fort Lauderdale Sharks vs. No. 2 ABC Medical Legends, 2 p.m. Saturday

Division III

Houston Rollin’ Rockets 51, Cleveland Wheelchair Cavaliers 28

Charlotte Rollin’ Hornets 65, Lakeshore Storm 51

Semifinals

No. 1 Charlotte Rollin’ Hornets 58, No. 4 Cleveland Wheelchair Cavaliers 35

No. 2 Lakeshore Storm 49, No. 3 Houston Rollin’ Rockets 36

Championship

No. 1 Charlotte Rollin’ Hornets vs. No. 2 Lakeshore Storm, 12 p.m. Saturday

Junior Division
Varsity
Varsity Division Play-In

Houston Hustle 43, Music City Thunder 20

Dallas Junior Mavs 37, Mississippi Wheelcats 26

Bennett Blazers 54, OKC Wheels Of Thunder 12

First Round

No. 5 Nebraska Red Dawgs 51, No. 12 Lakeshore Lakers 41

No. 8 RHI Racers 44, No. 9 Seattle Sonics 24

No. 4 Charlotte Rollin’ Hornets 50, No. 13 ATX (Austin) 33

No. 6 DASA Rolling Rams 40, No. 11 ParaSport Spokane 37

No. 7 Kansas City Kings 51, No. 10 BlazeSports Junior Hawks 44

No. 1 Cincinnati Dragons 74, No. 16 Bennett Blazers 51

No. 3 WASA Bucks 53, No. 14 Houston Hustle 34

No. 7 Kansas City Kings 51, No. 10 BlazeSports Junior Hawks (White) 44

No. 2 BlazeSports Junior Hawks (Red) 68, Dallas Junior Mavs 32

Consolation Bracket

No. 16 Bennett Blazers 63, No. 9 Seattle Sonics 44

No. 13 ATX (Austin) 47, No. 12 Lakeshore Lakers 36

No. 14 Houston Hustle 53, No. 11 ParaSport Spokane 44

No. 10 BlazeSports Hawks (White) 54, No. 15 Dallas Junior Mavs 31

Winners’ Bracket

No. 4 Charlotte Rollin’ Hornets 66, No. 5 Nebraska Red Dawgs 43

No. 1 Cincinnati Dragons 72, No. 8 RHI Racers 28

No. 3 WASA Bucks 54, No. 6 DASA Rolling Rams 38

No. 2 BlazeSports Junior Hawks (Red) 58, No. 7 Kansas City Kings 36

Semifinals

No 1 Cincinnati Dragons vs. No. 4 Charlotte Rollin Hornets, 10 a.m. Saturday

No. 3 WASA Bucks vs. No. 2 BlazeSports Junior Hawks (red), 8 a.m. Saturday

Prep Division
First Round

No. 8 Charlotte Rollin’ Hornets 32, No. 9 Cincinnati Dragons 16

No. 2 WASA Junior Bucks 36, No. 7 BlazeSports Junior Hawks 26

No. 3 New York Rolling Fury 34, No. 6 RHI Junior Racers 19

No. 5 Lakeshore Sharks 34, No. 4 Dallas Junior Mavs 24

No. 1 Kansas City Kings 24, No. 8 Charlotte Rollin’ Hornets 19

Second Round

No. 7 BlazeSports Junior Hawks 32, No. 9 Cincinnati Dragons 8

No. 2 WASA Junior Bucks 36, No. 3 New York Rolling Fury 21

No. 5 Lakeshore Sharks 51, No. 1 Kansas City Kings 12

No. 7 BlazeSports Junior Hawks 40, No. 6 RHI Junior Pacers 29

No. 4 Dallas Junior Mavs 30, No. 8 Charlotte Rollin’ Hornets 19

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