USA scores in wheelchair basketball
Team USA’s wheelchair basketball team came out firing on all cylinders for their first game of pool play at the Invictus Games in Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre in Toronto Thursday.
In the morning, Team USA took on Team Netherlands and beat them 35-19 and later handed Team Canada its first loss, 33-5.
RJ Anderson of Team USA, who sustained C7 and T4/5 spinal-cord injuries in a motorcycle accident in 2012, is making his third Invictus appearance, and it’s his second time playing wheelchair basketball at the Games.
“This time around, I feel like I can really contribute to the team, and it’s amazing,” Anderson says.
Anderson felt like Team USA communicated well during the first game.
“We played as one unit,” he says. “No one person won this game. Everyone did their part, everyone played defense, and that’s the main thing. Offense will come, but we play as a team and play defense, and that’s what wins games.”
The team just needs more unity to make it to the semi-finals on Saturday, Anderson says.
“Most of us have already trained up during the year as far as getting our body physically prepared, but we just worked on a few plays, just worked on understanding each other so we know each other’s weaknesses and strengths,” Anderson says. “Our game philosophy here is to just enjoy. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many of us, and to be on this platform is just amazing, so just work hard and leave everything on the court.”
Anderson says the Invictus crowd doesn’t put any additional pressure on him to perform.
“My team is my mental preparation,” he says. “We play as one unit, so we practice together, we stretch together, we play together, we enjoy afterwards together, so my main mental preparation is being with the team and making sure we’re in one accord.”
Brandi Evans has played wheelchair basketball about a year and a half and is the only female on Team USA’s wheelchair basketball team. She has a knee replacement and pins in her left hip after being hit by a car in 2003 and got into wheelchair basketball through the Army’s adaptive reconditioning program.
“When I first started, I didn’t think I’d make it this far,” she says. “My goal was Invictus.There’s so many great athletes in the military right now, and I’m just really lucky, I’m blessed to be picked to play with such great players.”
While she’s the team’s only female, she says the men don’t give her a hard time.
“We have some great players, playing in division teams, they have more experience, they have more time in the chair, and I was very nervous, especially being a girl, and with not as much experience,” she says. “They took me under their wing. I have no complaints about the team. They’ve helped me a lot. I think in the last two weeks that we’ve spent together, I’ve already become a better ball player because of them.”
Evans also competed in track and cycling this week, but wheelchair basketball is her favorite because of her team.
“I competed all week individually and there was a little bit of team effort yesterday [Wednesday] in cycling … we help each other out a little, to give each other a break,” she says. “But wheelchair basketball just has a different atmosphere. I’d rather win with a team than by myself. I really would. They’re like family.”
Walter Groen of the Netherlands, who has a T11 spinal-cord injury, says the team trained once a week for a few months and hoped for more, but they enjoyed the atmosphere and had a good time.
“The balls need to fall,” he says. “We need to grow in the tournament, communicate a little better.”
Therry Duitman of the Netherlands agrees that communication is a key element in improving their team. However, he feels his team moved the ball well.
“Winning may be a little important, but for me the focus is on the team play,” he says. “With each other, the same goals, and that’s to compete.”