Ultimate Basketball Challenge an ultimate victory for all

By Steve Contorno

Basketball games are not supposed to end in a tie. But for Wednesday night’s game, Illinois head coach Bruce Weber was perfectly fine with the final result.

It is a rarity when sports aren’t about winning or losing, and though the competitive juices were flowing at times, the fourth annual Ultimate Basketball Challenge showcased true sportsmanship and the unique skills of an often overlooked sport. So when the buzzer went off and the final score was 43-43, there were few complainers and many smiles — even though some players chanted for an extra two-minute period to decide the victor.

Athletes are athletes. Sports are sports. And the fun competition made the slogan for the event — “Where basketball happens, no matter sitting or standing” — even more relevant.

“I told (women’s wheelchair basketball coach) Patty (Cisneros) and (women’s basketball coach Jolette) Law it was perfect. It was a tie; everybody was happy. They enjoyed it. They wanted an overtime, but I think it was better having it a tie,” Weber said.

The game itself, which pitted players from both the men’s and women’s wheelchair and able-bodied basketball teams against each other in a wheelchair basketball game, was a hodgepodge of great athleticism and embarrassing moments. The able-bodied players, though superstars in their element, were slow, uncoordinated and often ridiculed by their teammates while on the court. Men’s wheelchair player Steve Serio enjoyed being able to show up some of the able-bodied players.

“I’m not going to lie, it’s definitely fun to show that we might be a little bit better,” Serio said. “But everyone’s having a good time. We liked Demetri McCamey’s (illegal) dunk. We appreciated it. It was all fun.”

After getting over the initial awkwardness of trying to fit his 7-foot frame in a wheelchair, Illini center Mike Tisdale effectively used his arm length and cherry-picking abilities to score on a series of fast breaks that put the Blue Team in the lead.

However, with the Orange Team down four points after trailing the entire second half, forward Mike Davis gave them a two-point lead. But neither player gave their team the ultimate edge, meaning the two may have to settle the score in the offseason.

“We’re going to bring a wheelchair to the gym, and me and Mike are going to play one-on-one, and I’m going to crush him. Mark my words,” Davis joked.

Tisdale disagreed.

“I didn’t see anything out there that impressed me. We’ll see next year though,” he replied.

The most embarrassing moment of the night, and possibly of his young career, was when freshman Stan Simpson checked into the game for the first time, took an inbound pass and made a shot in the wrong basket.

To his credit, Simpson rebounded with several nice shots, this time in the correct hoop, to make up for his prior mistake. Still, his lackadaisical moment left both sides wondering what the outcome of the game would have been otherwise and gave Weber a clear idea what Simpson needed to work on in the offseason.

“Learn which way we’re going, that’s the most important thing,” Weber said. “He was the hero for both teams.”

But fun aside, the purpose of the annual game was centered around bringing awareness about the wheelchair basketball programs to campus. And men’s wheelchair coach Mike Frogley couldn’t have been happier with how the night played out.

“For the student-athletes, we don’t get tons of fans. Not a lot of people have had an opportunity to see us. It’s an opportunity for our student-athletes to show that all their hard work pays off,” Frogley said. “It’s a great opportunity for students on campus to learn about the ability of all individuals, to look past all of our differences and see what we can do.”

Proceeds from the event benefited both the wheelchair basketball programs and Coaches vs. Cancer.

“It’s good for charity and for the fans. I’m really proud to be a part of this,” Tisdale said.