By 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.”
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.
“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.”
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, www.nwba.org
USA Paralympics, www.usparalympics.org
Visit Lake Norman, www.visitlakenorman.org
DOWNLOAD a tournament schedule and highlights (PDF)
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