Young team proves itself

By Josh Birnbaum

Although the Illinois men’s wheelchair basketball team is young, nine of its players are freshmen or sophomores. The team has enough talent to be ranked No. 2 in collegiate wheelchair basketball.

“That much youth typically makes a lot of mistakes,” head coach Mike Frogley said. “They don’t do that. This team goes out and they play hard every single possession.”

Team captain Steve Serio agreed with Frogley that the younger players are contributing just as much to this year’s team as are the veteran players.

“Our rookies are so talented … that the potential for this team in the next three-to-four years is just unbelievable,” Serio said. “(They could) be one of the great college teams ever because these rookies are so good.”

The team signed four new recruits last year, all of whom were among the top high school wheelchair basketball players in the country. Tom Smurr, Brian Bell, Ryan Chalmers, and Joey Gugliotta all joined the team in the fall and are adjusting quickly to the challenges of collegiate wheelchair basketball.

“We’re all getting along well and we’re like a big family basically,” Gugliotta said. “It has been a lot of fun.”

Because the freshman class is so strong and the veteran players bring in so much prior experience, Gugliotta said he feels that the team is very well-balanced.

“Our bench is so deep that we can throw any kind of lineup in there,” said Gugliotta. “It’s a big threat.”

Serio, in his third year on the team, has shown growth as well, Frogley noted.

“Captain Steve Serio has really come of age,” coach Frogley said. “He has really become the player on the court that dictates the game.”

The team’s focus right now is on this weekend’s tournament at Edinboro University, where Illinois will play its rival – the No. 1 University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks. Serio feels confident against the Warhawks this season.

“I do not think they are a threat for the first time in two years,” Serio said of Whitewater. “We do have exactly what it takes to beat them.”

The team will also face off against the Canadian and Japanese national teams in February at Brock University in Ontario, Canada – an experience that will be different from their normal collegiate match-ups.

“It’s one of those things you can only benefit from,” Serio said.