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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Wheelchair basketball goes 3-1 over weekend (w/video)

    The point guard drove through the lane, dodging defenders with spin moves and speed.

    He faked right, then left, and let the ball roll off his fingertips into the basket, drawing a foul in the process.

    He’s the smallest player on the court, but he’s not Nic Wise. He’s got a mohawk, but he’s not Jamelle Horne.

    He is Ryan Prioleau, one of nine players on the UA men’s wheelchair basketball team and one of the best college athletes playing from a chair. He helped the Wildcats to a 3-1 record in a tournament in the Student Recreation Center this weekend, beating Oklahoma State, Missouri and Alabama, but dropping an 87-71 decision to the Texas-Arlington on Saturday.

    Prioleau led his team with 21 points in the loss, which ties Arizona (16-3) with Arlington, the Wildcats’ biggest rival, for third place nationally.

    “”(The tournament) brings a lot of exposure to our sport because it’s not as popular right now,”” said Prioleau, who was born with spina bifida, a deformity of the spine that gives him scoliosis and weak limbs. “”It’s becoming more popular as people come out and support us. People see how competitive the sport can be.””

    Derek Brown, who has coached the UA women’s wheelchair team for nine years and the men’s team for five, said his team tried running four different defensive sets against the Mavericks, including a zone and triangle-and-2.

    “”We tried a number of different things on the defensive end, but couldn’t really get any of them working the way that we wanted them to,”” Brown said. “”But we have to give the other team credit, too. They really shot lights out.””

    But despite the Wildcats’ most lopsided loss of the season, almost every player had a smile on his face as he rolled out of the the Rec. Of course they weren’t happy about the loss, but there’s a large degree of satisfaction from playing the game they love.

    “”It makes us real athletes,”” Prioleau said. “”We’re out here working five days a week just like any other sport.””

    In short, it’s a brotherhood.

    “”Three of these guys on the team are roommates of mine, I’ve known all of these guys for the most part since I was 14 or 15 years old,”” said forward Eric Harris, who was born with a dislocated hip, causing nerve damage in both legs. “”We all care about each other, we respect each other. We know that we’re working hard out here.””

    Wheelchair basketball carries many of the same rules as regular college basketball. There are fouls, free throws and, of course, teamwork.

    From time to time, players will fall forward in their chairs. To get up, a teammate will wheel himself in front of the fallen player and act as a brace. Sometimes, though, players must use their arms to walk themselves upright again, getting their chairs back underneath them.

    “”Some of that is practice,”” Harris said. “”Coach always trains those who can do it to get up as quickly as possible and get back into play, because it’s not like the refs are going to wait for us to get up or the other team is going to wait for us to get up, so we have to learn how to do that on our own.””

    Overall, though, the players don’t feel like they have a disadvantage being in a wheelchair. It’s a chance for them to show their skills and play for one of the nation’s most talented universities in terms of wheelchair basketball.

    “”Luckily we’re at a school that has much respect for disabled students and disabled athletes,”” Harris said. “”Most of the other students recognize that there are athletes at this school in chairs, and they definitely give respect.””

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