Illini aim for championship

By Brian Atlas

Head coach Mike Frogley says his men’s wheelchair basketball team can win the national championship.

The Illini did not lose one player from last year’s roster, which finished third place nationally. After speaking with coaches from other teams, Frogley believes the men’s team will be ranked No. 2 in the country to start the season. This year the Illini will be co-captained by Josh George and Denny Muha.

“Josh is going to be the key for our success,” Frogley said. “He’s a mismatch problem for other teams…because of his speed and his quickness. He gives us an edge out there that other teams simply can’t put on the court.”

George’s speed is a big part of his game. Along with basketball, George also competes in track. A week before the International Paralympic Committee World Championships, George competed at the Swiss Nationals, where he raced in the 400-meter dash for the T53 division, finishing the race in 49.95 seconds, a world record.

Despite the blazing speed George offers, Frogley wants more out of him.

“What we need is him to be technically focused on the court,” Frogley said. “He really needs to be that coach on the court, particularly as it relates to some of the defenses we want to switch to.”

George is responsible for calling the defensive plays. The coach also wants him to be the one to settle down the team on offense from time to time. Frogley understands that George has a lot of experience, which includes logging the most minutes for the U.S. men’s national team for the world championships this past summer.

George has his own views on doing what is best for the team.

“I’m going into (the season) with the mind set of trying to keep our biggest threats on pace,” George said. “Being able to keep them focused and keep them motivated is probably going to be the key to the season.”

One of those threats is sophomore Steve Serio, who was the top freshman in the country last season, according to Frogley.

“(Serio) is really our go to guy, on or off the ball,” Frogley said.

In order to improve, however, Frogley added that Serio has to learn how to use his skills in conjunction with the other players on the court. Serio isn’t bothered by being called a “go to guy” as a sophomore.

“I don’t feel that much pressure because we have a lot of leadership on the team,” Serio said. “The team has so much talent and also so much to improve on.”

Added to the mix this year is freshman Alex Grunstein, who is known for his three-point shooting.

“He’s got a great soft touch,” Frogley said.

Because of Grunstein’s range, space is created, which in turn helps out the post players. Spreading the defense also provides bigger lanes to cut through.

With all of the positive aspects going for the team heading in to the season, along with returning every athlete, the players expect to win the national championship.

After coming so close to getting to the championship game last year, George is hungry for another chance to bring the title home.