Illinois men’s wheelchair basketball team starts in-season practice

By Ryan Wilson , Staff writer

When a student walks down the shiny hallway to Gym 1 in the Activities and Recreation Center, they will pass Gym 2 on the right.

A few feet beyond the gym are the multipurpose rooms to the left and the display case for the Illinois wheelchair basketball programs on the right.

The exhibit showcases the legacy of the program with pictures of previous teams and National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) championship trophies.

A bit after that, the hallway grows dim, and a raspy voice barking orders in the distance is audible.

It’s the voice of Matt Buchi, leading his team’s second in-season practice.

The players have spent the past three weeks pushing up and down the ramps in Memorial Stadium to work on their cardio and regain lost strength from the summer. The team moved to the ARC on Oct. 3 to focus more on quick decision-making skills in preparation for the men’s wheelchair basketball season opener Oct. 21-22 at Southwestern Minnesota State University.

“It’s a lot of work that we have to do here and a lot of mechanics that we have to remember,” freshman Dago Saenz said. “But it’s pretty cool.”

Usually, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Buchi starts the 6:30 a.m. practice in the classroom by sketching and going over drills with his players. But on Oct. 4, he wanted his squad to spend the first 15 minutes of the day shooting.

“We’ve had some growing pains,” Buchi said.

He had his team run pick and roll, around the world and three-person weave drills to learn quick decision-making skills.

Buchi said the men’s team hit 10 layups and jumpers simultaneously toward the end of last season during the three-man weave drill. His team’s record is three or four this year.

“We’re not doing well at all,” he said as he sat on the half-court line, out of bounds, watching his players perform the drill.

Buchi learns many of his drills from the Point Guard College program, mainly from Washington women’s basketball coach Mike Neighbors. The Point Guard College program helps basketball coaches and players from around the nation and Canada share ideas about the game.

Buchi adapts the able bodied drills to wheelchair basketball players.

“Mike is a great guy who shares every piece of coaching material,” Buchi said. “He and I are not on a first-name conversation basis, but I have used a lot of his work.”

He is also learning more plays from YouTube videos and modernizing and speeding up drills from his years on Illinois’ wheelchair basketball team.

“I’m just trying to get them (the players) more game-like,” he said.

[email protected]