Wheelchair basketball’s Shelby Gruss and her love for the game

By Thomas Polcyn

When Shelby Gruss first sat in a wheelchair after a major snowboarding accident at age 18, she thought her career with the game she loved had ended. 

But four years later, she has redirected her passion for basketball into a position as the captain of the Illinois women’s wheelchair basketball team. The junior plays the 1.5 position, acting as a guard/forward combination for the Illini.

“I don’t bring the ball down a lot, but my role isn’t to get in the middle. My role is to get the forwards in the middle,” Gruss said.

Her basketball career began when she was 5 years old, and though it changed after her accident, Gruss would not let the accident hold her back from doing what she loves.

She took a year off from basketball after getting hurt but rejuvenated her career when she was 20 years old: She began playing for a team in her hometown of Ossain, Indiana.

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    “I’ve always been a really competitive person, and basketball was the love of my life before I got hurt,” Gruss said. “The first year I didn’t play because I was planning on moving away to college and not coming (to Illinois). When I decided I wasn’t moving away yet, I played for a home team and fell in love with it. I saw the opportunity here and naturally, decided to come play (at Illinois).”

    Gruss said she enjoys all aspects of the game, but her favorite is unique to wheelchair basketball and is called “sealing,” which is similar to setting a pick. 

    “Sealing is awesome,” Gruss said. “You get that big player in, and nobody can touch them because you get everybody else out of the way. I think that’s amazing.”

    As captain, she is a leader of the team, but Gruss looks up to several of her teammates, specifically senior Gail Gaeng.

    “She always works her hardest and tries to get the best of every situation,” Gruss said. “She is a great leader and definitely someone that I aspire to play like.”

    Out of all things that basketball has brought Gruss, her favorite is simply enjoying time with her teammates.

    “After a tournament when we do well everyone is so close,” she said. “I see it (in practice) every day. Everybody has each other’s backs.”

    Gruss will lead her team in its season-opening games on Oct. 29 at the Wheelchair Basketball Academy Tournament in Toronto.

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