Men’s basketball team travels to Canada; competes against top international teams

By Josh Birnbaum

In an out of conference tournament this past weekend, the Illinois men’s wheelchair basketball team traveled to Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, to play the top-ranked Canadian national team and the No. 7 Japanese national team.

“I always like to put together the toughest schedule I possibly can,” head coach Mike Frogley said. “If you want to be a great team, you have to play great teams and you can’t shy away from the competition.”

The men started off the weekend strong, defeating Japan 58-47 and Canada 71-62. During the game against Canada, the Illini shot 57.1 percent from the field.

“It sets us up for the college division because we know basically we can play any team,” senior Brandon Wagner said. “We’re pretty much brimming with confidence right now – our whole team.”

Because the games were played on an international court, Illinois had to play by international rules. Major differences included a 24-second shot clock and a wider free-throw lane.

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“(By) playing with a 24-second shot clock … we really learned how fast we can execute,” Wagner said. “We want to keep playing with that mentality: ‘We don’t need 35 seconds to score.'”

Saturday and Sunday, the faster pace perhaps hurt the Illini. They lost their next two games against Canada 61-57 and 68-58.

“All of the games were close games,” Frogley said. “We had a chance to win both games but we lost. We had last possession and didn’t hit the shots, weren’t able to capitalize. We were still right in the ball game until the very end.”

The Canadian games were particularly significant for Frogley because in addition to being the head coach of the Illinois men’s team, he is also the head coach of the Canadian national team.

This weekend, however, the Canadian associate head coach took over Frogley’s duties while he was on the Illini bench.

“He knows the players really well so he could give us advice about the players and things they do in the game,” said Aaron Pike, who scored 13 points in the victory against Japan and eight in the Canadian victory. “It really gave us an advantage.”

The Canadian matchups were also significant for Wagner, who will be trying out for the Canadian national team this coming April.

“You’re the enemy and you’re at home,” Wagner said. “You want to show them that you’ve been training hard and working towards the same goal that they have, which is winning a Paralympic gold medal this September in Beijing.”

Illinois’ next tournament will be this Friday and Saturday at the Intramural Physical Education Building, where players will be facing their rival, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks, whom the Illini beat just three weeks ago and split the top rank with.

“It’s going to be the biggest game of the year so far,” Pike said. “We’ve always had the mindset that there are two teams out there: us and Whitewater. We have to be the team to beat them.”