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Lake Norman hosts int’l wheelchair basketball tourney

USA wheelchair basketball women

Standouts on the U.S. women's basketball team include, from left, Desiree Miller, Becca Murray and Caitlin McDermott, an Ardrey Kell High School graduate. (Chris Hunt/


The National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) will hold the first-ever International Tournament of Champions in the Lake Norman area this week, Wednesday to Saturday, Aug. 10-13. More than 250 of the world’s elite wheelchair basketball players arrived last weekend and began training in high and middle school gyms from Huntersville to Mooresville.

Seven men’s and five women’s international squads are here, including the top four finishers from the men’s and women’s 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing. Tournament director Dick Bryant, a Charlotte resident who also serves as president of the NWBA, said the International Tournament of Champions allows the best of the best to fine tune their skills on the hardwood in preparation for next summer’s 2012 Paralympic Games in London.

“This is a ‘friendly’ tournament that gives our athletes the opportunity to train against the best competition in the world,” Bryant said. “The concept of the event is to combine a week’s worth of practice and high level competition at the same time. It is a prelude to what we will see in the 2011 Paralympics.”


There are few differences between wheelchair basketball and what International Tournament of Champions participants know as “able-bodied basketball.”

Both games are played on the same sized court under two 10-foot baskets. The rules are similar, with the exception of equipment regulations – such as a player’s wheelchair seat can’t exceed 21-inches above the ground – or instead of three seconds in the lane, wheelchair basketball players can take four seconds.

For the most part, that’s where the differences end between the two sports.

Wheelchair basketball players can be called for traveling if the player in possession of the ball pushes his or her wheel(s) more than twice in either direction without dribbling, passing or shooting the basketball. And, since the wheelchair is considered part of the player, standard basketball rules of contact such as charging, blocking and fouling a shooter apply. Even free throws are taken – and made often – from the standard distance.

But the threat of a referee’s whistle doesn’t stop wheelchair basketball players from crashing their chairs during a game. Players often throw their chariots in front of speeding opponents to slow an adversary’s momentum or set a pick on a defender.

The result of such collisions is that wheelchair basketball just might be as physically demanding on its participants as its high-flying counterpart. After a made or missed basket, teams can press an opponent in the backcourt or hustle their chairs back on defense to protect the basket. Games are intense and action-packed.

“The thing that surprises everyone is how physical the game really is,” said David Kiley, the U.S. women’s coach. “There’s so much grinding on the court.

“I was asked earlier what it could be compared to and I said, ‘It’s kind of like NASCAR where you are swapping paint – bumping and grinding – but then at times it’s just a beautiful, finesse game of teamwork.’ (The sport) takes people by surprise – when they see someone bomb a three-pointer or get knocked to the floor and pop right back up.”

The tournament couldn’t come at a better time for the American wheelchair basketball team. Team USA men’s coach Jim Glatch said he has been using the week to evaluate his 18-man squad. The U.S. must settle on a 12-man roster before Parapan American Games, which will be held in Guadalajara, Mexico, Nov. 12-20. The Parapan American Games serves as a qualifier for the London Paralympics.

To make sure there are plenty of minutes to go around, Team USA will enter two squads in this weekend’s tournament. Glatch’s blue and white squads will take on 2008 Paralympic gold medalist Australia, silver medalist Canada and Bronze finalists Great Britain during the four-day event. Team USA finished forth at Beijing in 2008. American speedster Paul Schulte – who Glatch said was one of the top players in the world – and Jay Nelms will lead Team Blue. The squad’s most reliable post threat Joe Chambers and Matt Scott will highlight Team White.

“Winning this tournament would be nice, but this week is more about the progress of the team,” Glatch said. “We need to find out who were are going to take to the qualifier in Mexico.”

While Team USA’s men’s wheelchair basketball team is hoping to improve on its 2008 Paralympic performance, Team USA’s women are the two-time defending gold medalists in search of a three-peat.

Coached by Mooresville-native and former wheelchair basketball Paralympian David Kiley, who was hired in 2009, Team USA will face Paralympic silver medalist Germany and bronze finalist Australia. It’s Team USA’s first time on the court together since tryouts in June. Paralympic fourth-place finisher Japan, as well as the Netherlands, also will compete in the International Tournament of Champions this weekend.

Desiree Miller (9)

Desiree Miller (9) takes a shot during a practice game this week. (Chris Hunt/

“The South American countries can pose a threat, but we are anticipating meeting Canada in the finals of the Parapan American Games,” Kiley said. “Everyone has their eye on the prize and that is London. Everyone’s after the U.S. and the back-to-back gold medals that (we) have been able to attain.”

Team USA’s women’s coach said 21-year-old guard Becca Murray could be the best wheelchair basketball player in the world. The Americans also returns plenty of talent with the versatile Desiree Miller, Andrea Woodson-Smith (a professor at North Carolina Central University when she isn’t playing) and Natalie Schneider.

Kiley isn’t the only participant with North Carolina ties. South Charlotte-native Caitlin McDermott is a recent graduate from Ardrey Kell High School and she’s earned a scholarship to play wheelchair basketball for the University of Alabama.

“This tournament will have some of the most fit and athletic wheelchair basketball players you’ll ever see,” said Kiley. “The ability to score from all over the court is unbelievable. I think I’ve got a shooter that I’d match (at) mid-range against any able-bodied player.”

Sarah Castle (11) on right

Sarah Castle (right, No. 11) defends against a Canadian player in a practice game. (Chris Hunt/


The first three days of the men’s tournament will be at Lake Norman Charter Middle School and Lake Norman Charter High School from Wednesday, Aug. 10, to Friday, Aug. 12, under a round robin format.

Lake Norman Charter High School is the site for the men’s semi-finals and championship games on Saturday, Aug. 13, starting at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., respectively.

The women’s tournament begins at Lake Norman High School on Wednesday, Aug. 10 and moves to Bailey Middle School for Days 2 and 3. The semifinals and championship games are set for Lake Norman Charter High School on Saturday, Aug. 13. Tip off is 9 a.m. and 11 a.m., respectively.

The International Tournament of Champions hosted by the National Wheelchair Basketball Association and sponsored by Visit Lake Norman and the Cornelius and Huntersville parks and recreation departments.


National Wheelchair Basketball Association,

USA Paralympics,

Visit Lake Norman,

DOWNLOAD a tournament schedule and highlights (PDF)

July 22, 2011, “Adaptive waterskiing offers new opportunities, independence” – A story and video about a program at Lake Norman Y

Team USA

The USA women's team

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- who has written 716 posts on Sports.

David Boraks is the founder and editor of Davidson News LLC, which started in 2006 as a neighborhood blog and evolved into a regional community news network. He is a print, magazine, web and radio journalist, with experience in every nook and cranny of the news world, covering everything from local news to Fortune 100 companies to technology to Asia. He lives on South Street in Davidson, in a house that was at the center of a 1914 murder case. Ask him and he'll tell you that story.

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One Response to “Lake Norman hosts int’l wheelchair basketball tourney”

  1. dboraks says: and People’s Bank are giving away free tickets to the tournament. If you’re interested, email


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