Alabama duo signs with wheelchair basketball teams

By Brian Atlas

The Illinois men’s wheelchair basketball team got a recruiting boost when Brian Bell, a high school wheelchair basketball athlete, recently signed with the team. Last season Bell was featured as one of the “Faces in the Crowd” in an issue of Sports Illustrated, as Bell led the Lakeshore (Ala.) Lakers to a national title and was named the tournament’s MVP.

“Brian is the top high school player in the country, and he’s probably one of the top three (wheelchair basketball athletes) in the world overall,” head coach Mike Frogley said. “We were ecstatic to get him.”

Bell, a 17-year-old, says he usually plays small forward but can play any of the five positions. Bell handles the ball well, and has a knack for anticipating his opponent’s next move on defense.

“The neatest thing about (Bell), aside from being a super athlete, is he’s completely unselfish,” Frogley said. “He’s always making decisions on the court as to what’s best for the team, how to get a scoring opportunity for the team. He also gives the ball up really well.”

But there were aspects aside from basketball that put Illinois at the top of his list. Growing up in Alabama, Bell had interest in going to the University of Alabama.

“(Illinois) has the degrees that I want to go into,” Bell said. “Alabama didn’t necessarily have the degrees (but) might have had similar programs.”

But Bell isn’t the only member of the Lakers Frogley signed. Casandra Rightmyer, who plays along Bell in the starting lineup for Lakeshore, will play for the Illinois women’s squad.

“(Rightmyer) is one of the better female players in the country,” Frogley said. “She’s really kind of an interesting prospect because what I’ve seen in her is each year she’s been playing, she’s improved significantly,” Frogley said.

“I’m a good communicator . I see the floor, and I have good court awareness,” Rightmyer said about her game.

Rightmyer lives in the same household in Alabama as Bell. Rightmyer’s parents took in Bell as his temporary guardians about one and a half years ago. When Bell went to nationals his sophomore year of high school, his English teacher failed him and did not let him make up the final exam, according to Rightmyer. In addition, Bell had to miss school in ninth grade to have a revision on his amputated leg, and the high school he was attending did not count the home-schooling to make up for it.

“(George Washington) Carver High School did not work with him at all,” Rightmyer said. “They weren’t being supportive of him playing wheelchair basketball.”

As a result, Bell’s mother asked the Rightmyers if Bell could live with them and attend Holtville High School, where he can make up the schoolwork and continue to have opportunities. Bell is on track as a senior this year.

Rightmyer, like Bell, is serious about school and chose Illinois in large part for its academics. She likes that the team is required to have a minimum of eight hours of study time per week at the Irwin Academic Services Center.

Rightmyer is ultimately interested in recreational therapy, and Bell wants to combine computer classes, math classes, art classes and more in an Individual Plans Study (create your own major) to end up doing something with graphic design. Both athletes also said coach Frogley factored into their decisions to commit to Illinois. He’s a coach that these two athletes respect.

“Coach Frogley is the best coach in the world,” Rightmyer said. “He is truly the top coach, and I would be honored to be coached under him.”