Men’s wheelchair basketball team continues preseason without head coach

By Thomas Polcyn

Following a successful 2014-2015 season, the Illinois men’s wheelchair basketball team will begin this season’s campaign without its head coach.

Just after the school year began, head coach Matt Buchi had a kidney removed and has been unable to rejoin the team since. In his absence, assistant coach Kate Rougeau has taken over and is preparing the Illini for their upcoming season opener.

Under normal circumstances, Rougeau operates as the assistant for both the men’s and women’s teams. In practice she does nearly equal work with both sides and as a result has gotten to know the ins and outs of each team.

“I think (working with both teams) benefits both sides,” Rougeau said. “I think sometimes there is a detriment where I can be stretched too thin, and they won’t always have a coach for the full length of practice. Typically I’ll bounce back and forth between drills so I’ll miss things they’re working on. It makes (the coaches) communication off court that much more important, but I really enjoy working with both teams.”

Rougeau has now been with the Illini for three years as the assistant to both the men’s and women’s teams. Before coming to Champaign, she worked with younger teams — 5-18-year-olds — back in her home state of Michigan. After making connections with old Illinois coaches she submitted her application and was given her current job. In addition to working with the basketball teams Rougeau is also a graduate student at Illinois, seeking a doctorate in biobehavioral kinesiology.

Recently, Buchi returned to the office but still has a little time to go before he makes a return to the court. For now, he meets with both Rougeau and women’s head coach Stephanie Wheeler. In these meetings they watch film and form game/practice plans for the week. The team is hopeful that he will make a return to the court around mid-November, but for the most part Rougeau is running things exactly as Buchi would if he were there.

“We talk every day,” Rougeau said. “He sits in on our practice plans, so we are pretty serious to make sure that nothing changes while he is gone.”

Under the mentorship of Rougeau, the team is making its final preparations for game action as its season will start next week. Rougeau won’t be alone at the game, as Wheeler will assist her at the tournament.

“We’re getting there,” Rougeau said. “It is going to be a test for the team and luckily I will have (Wheeler) by my side on the bench to help me see things I might not see right away. We just began running our set plays and we can use some work but we’ll get there.”

The experience of both Wheeler and Rougeau will carry the Illini into action next weekend in the men’s season opening tournament.

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