Illini paralympians headed to Beijing



By Daniel Johnson

After going from fifth place in 2000 to gold in 2004, the U.S. women’s Paralympic basketball team will have its chance to repeat with starting point guard and University head coach Patty Cisneros.

The team will travel to Beijing on August 28 for the Paralympics, which start two weeks after the closing ceremonies of the Olympics.

Cisneros, 30, was on the 2000 and 2004 teams and knows why the team was able to make a transition from a poor finish to the top of their sport.

“It was a huge jump for us. I think in 2000 (when we finished fifth) the core of our team was really inexperienced, internationally, and we were all so young,” Cisneros said.

“For a lot of us, it was our first Paralympics, it was the first time we’d been in a big event like that. But in 2004, we developed together, we matured a little bit, we participated in other tournaments like world championships and qualifiers, the young kids were mature,” Cisneros said with a laugh. “In 2004, we knew how to prepare, I think that is a good way of putting it. Not that we weren’t prepared in 2000, but when 2004 came, we knew what we needed to do much more so than before.”

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Six of the women from the 2004 squad, Cisneros, Jennifer Ruddell, Carlee Hoffman, Emily Hoskins, Christina Ripp and Stephanie Wheeler, all University alumni, will be returning to play in Beijing to defend their medal.

The coach will become a player again, as Cisneros will be participating in the games with her players from Illinois, Sarah Castle and Hoffman, during the stint in Beijing. She said it’s been an interesting change but one she has adjusted to.

“It was a little weird at first, but I’ve played with Sarah and Carlee before,” the Hobart, Ind., native said. “It’s not too bad, I just had to remember that I wasn’t the coach, I was now in the player role. The harder transition is to play against the players that I coach.”

The University will also be represented by three other countries during the games – Australia, Germany and Canada. Twenty-two Paralympians will be representing the University, 17 of which will play for the U.S.

Cisneros and the U.S. will be playing against UI alumni like Edina Mueller of Germany and Shelley Chaplin of Australia.

“That will be the weird part, I’m going to be like ‘oh, hey, I know you,'” she said.

And like Deron Williams for the men’s Olympic team, Cisneros will be running the point for the team, something that she said will be similar to how Williams will play for the men.

“It’s the same as Deron for the guys, my role is to get the ball to my teammates,” she said. “(I am) kind of like Deron is, we take some shots when we need to, but that’s not really our role on the team. Point guard as an able-bodied person and point guard in wheelchair ball is pretty similar.”

Cisneros is quick to recognize her role with the team.

“Of course, everyone wants to be the top scorer, right?” she said laughing. “But we have other people to fill those roles; I understand that my job is going to be to control the ball.”

It would seem that after controlling players and students throughout her career, a ball might be a nice change.