Illini attract top recruits

By Josh Birnbaum

Bringing in three of the top recruits in the country is not an easy thing to do, but wheelchair basketball coach Mike Frogley seems to have no trouble attracting talent.

“This is probably the best class of freshmen we’ve ever had coming in,” Frogley said.

For the men’s team, Frogley recently signed Tom Smurr and Ryan Chalmers, in addition to a player Frogley picked up in October of last year, Brian Bell. All three are ranked as top-five high school wheelchair basketball players.

Frogley also signed Markie Boyd to the women’s team. Although she only recently started participating in wheelchair athletics, she shows potential, Frogley said.

“She played high school basketball before her accident,” said Frogley. “I can see her down the road becoming one of the great point guards in the US.”

Boyd said her decision to come to Illinois was based on academics as well as the opportunity to participate in collegiate wheelchair basketball.

“I played basketball my whole life, but not wheelchair basketball,” Boyd said. “It just looked like (Illinois) could do so much for me and I could do a lot more there for myself to further my education.”

Frogley also said he has high hopes for the men’s recruits.

“(Ryan) is a kid with a motor that just won’t quit,” Frogley said. “His personality alone will enhance team chemistry.”

Regarding Smurr, Frogley said, “Tommy is a phenomenal student. What’s going to be fun about coaching him is that he’s just a sponge for everything we have to teach him.”

Coincidentally, coming to Illinois will not be the first meeting between Smurr and Chalmers: they both played on a junior team representing the U.S. in Australia two years ago.

“I’m really excited to work with him because we are great friends,” said Smurr. “He’s a great player.”

Smurr has also played with Bell and current Illinois co-captain Steve Serio.

“In my first second-place finish at nationals, I played against Steve Serio,” Smurr said. “(And) Brian Bell … destroyed us at the championship at this last nationals.”

Before deciding on Illinois, Smurr, who hails from Waukesha, Wisc., was actively recruited by the current No. 1 wheelchair basketball team in the country, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks.

“It was basically a choice between Whitewater and Illinois for me,” said Smurr. “It boiled down to academics.”

Chalmers, who comes from upstate New York, also chose Illinois for its well-regarded program.

“I think that (Illinois) is the biggest place where I can improve and go to wherever I want to go with wheelchair basketball,” said Chalmers. “And they also have track which is a very big thing for me.”

Among all these reasons, however, Smurr came here purely for wheelchair basketball.

“I want to build up my skill level to international game quality,” she said. “And I do believe that coach Frogley will get me there.”