Mak Nong's long wheelchair basketball career serving him well as Illini captain

By Thomas Polcyn

Mak Nong is an essential piece of the Illinois men’s wheelchair basketball team. He is a junior from Long Beach, California, who studies Recreation, Sport and Tourism with a concentration in Recreation. 

Nong’s major is a reflection of his past — an influential youth coach got him into basketball.

“She changed my life. I wouldn’t be in university if it weren’t for my experiences with that team,” Nong said. “I want to mold people the same way she did for me with sports programs.” 

Thanks to Lisa Hilborn and the Ranchos Los Amigos basketball program Nong began his basketball career when he was just five years old. 

Hilborn saw Nong “pushing around the mall” when she approached him and asked if he was interested in playing basketball. 

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    Ever since then there was no looking back. He continued his basketball career in high school and during his junior career he was recruited to play for the Illini.

    In gameplay Nong can be found in any role on the court. “I can handle the ball, I can play the post. Honestly, whatever my team needs me to do that day I will do it,” Nong said. Although Nong is a team player that embraces all roles on the court, he would consider himself to be a defensive specialist.

    “There is nothing better than making the opposing team use up the entire shot-clock because it shows that everyone is doing their job on defense. When that buzzer sounds everyone on the team get’s pumped up and it’s just a great feeling,” Nong said. In practices it is obvious this defensive mindset is widespread throughout the whole team and it is certainly fair to say that Nong is at the heart of it.

    Aside from his immense basketball skillset, Nong is also a team captain and a strong leader for the Illini. “(Being a captain for the team) is an absolute honor. We are a very prestigious program with great tradition. (The team) has produced great atheletes as well as great contributors to society,” Nong said.

    Following the suit of leadership one player that Nong aspires to play like is Kobe Bryant. “His passion and drive to be better than everyone else is amazing. That’s definitely something I want to bring to the team to keep us going through the season. We are going to do whatever we have to win the national championship (this year),” Nong said. “Go Illini!”

    After a solid season last year at 15-11, the Illini will embark on their quest for a national championship this year. They will do so by utilizing a team that is loaded with experience and hungry to win. The Men’s season opens in two weeks in a college tournament at Southwest Minnesota State University where the Illini will look to kick their season off with a big tournament win.


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