Illinois men’s wheelchair basketball team eyes the Bucks in Champaign


Austin Yattoni

Illinois’ Ryan Neiswender takes a shot during the game against Arizona State University at the Activities and Recreation Center on February 13. The Illini won 69-43.

By Ryan Wilson, Staff writer

Illinois men’s wheelchair basketball’s Patrick Tomic is getting taller just in time to face a 6-foot opponent on the court.

Tomic, an average-sized guard/forward, started using a new wheelchair last month, and he said it sits higher than his previous chair.

“Now that I’m taller and can actually use these other functions that I have, it lets me solely just worry about the game, instead of just, ‘Well, dang, this guy’s way faster than me’ and all this other kind of stuff,” Tomic said.

Tomic debuted his new chair at Illinois’ previous tournament in Wichita, Kansas. The senior had a game-high 17 points in the team’s loss to University of Texas Arlington.

Juniors Ryan Neiswender and Spencer Heslop were not connecting on their signature pick-and-rolls in the game, so it forced the team to look more to players like Tomic for mid-range jumpers.

“Shooting is so much easier, so I felt great against UTA, and I personally felt like I surprised UTA a little bit,” Tomic said. “It helped Ryan and Spencer only have to worry about their shot, which is cool because they could kind of relax a little bit.”

Neiswender said he noticed a difference in Tomic’s game.

“In sport, when you have confidence, that’s a dangerous thing in a good way,” Neiswender said. “I think when you’re confident, you play to your potential, your best. Patrick is doing that right now.”

The Illini will have a tough weekend ahead of them in their four-game circuit at the ARC on Friday and Saturday. They will play the Canadian National Academy team and the Milwaukee Bucks twice.

The Bucks previously defeated the Illini on Nov. 13 in the Second City Showdown in Chicago. Nate Hinze, who’s 6-foot-2 and a two-time Paralympian, and Rebecca Murray, a three-time Paralympian, combined for 51 of the Bucks’ 61 points.

“I think we’ve seen a lot of things we need to work on with our defense,” Heslop said. “We need to stop the one-on-one cuts and stuff like that.”

Head coach Matt Buchi said Illinois’ bigs — Martinez Johnson, Derek Hoot and Mak Nong — are trying to find more confidence to respond to Hinze.

“We’ve been working on being physical with the bigs,” Buchi said. “We still have a lot to work on, but we have time to do it. It’s always fun to go against these bigs that are international-sized, rather than just college level.”

Despite some of the members of the Bucks being in their 30s — Heinz is 28  — Buchi expects Tomic to continue to come up big this weekend.

“Pat was really our big impact player when we were in Wichita,” Buchi said. “He hit some big shots, and when we were shooting the ball late in the shot clock, he ripped the net quite a bit.

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