Buchi brings familiar stylings, new enthusiasm to wheelchair basketball team

Beginning at 6:30 a.m. on Thursday mornings, a series of pump-up songs can be heard playing in the southeast corner of Memorial Stadium.

The music accompanies shouts of encouragement from Matt Buchi, head wheelchair basketball coach, as his team endures its weekly ramp workout. The two-hour practice, sprinting up and down the elevation ramps in the stadium, is part of Buchi’s preseason plan to work on the team’s conditioning. While some members of the team have a hard time enjoying the workouts, captain Jacob Tyree loves the benefits it brings.

“I know it really stinks that we have to do this, and we haven’t been able to shoot a basket for two weeks,” Tyree said. “It has just been all conditioning stuff, but I know that if we keep this up, no team will be able to compete with us. We will be able to press the entire length of a game, while some teams will start to fall apart towards the end of the third quarter.”

Buchi is in his first year as head coach of the program following the departure of former coach Mike Frogley, who left to be director of Wheelchair Basketball Canada’s National Academy. Frogley was coach of both the women’s and men’s teams for 16 years. In his tenure as coach, he won 11 combined national championships, including one in 2008 with Buchi as player on the team.

“I really consider (Frogley) to be the godfather of wheelchair basketball,” Buchi said. “There are a lot of drills and defenses that happen in the college division among all the schools that he has incorporated into the game. He has really adapted and developed the sport really well. It’s some big shoes for me to fill.”

Both Frogley and Buchi claim to have similar coaching styles — the ramp practices originated with Frogley — but Frogley did acknowledge one difference.

“Buchi is probably a little bit more fun-loving, but I think we both bring a lot of energy to our coaching,” Frogley said. “There are a lot of things I see in Buchi that I saw in myself when I was a young coach.”

The team will play its first games in the Illini Classic, which begins Nov. 2. The Illini will take on various adult league teams in the tournament. Tyree said it’s a warm-up for the actual regular season, but it will give the team a chance to play against its weakness.

“We are not a team of height,” Tyree said. “So if we can bring some teams that have these huge tanks of players that just sit by the basket and shoot layups all day long, it will help us prepare for when we play college teams with those types of players.”

Despite the height disadvantage, Buchi feels the team will be able to compete because of its ability to shoot the ball.

The players have also bonded off of the court through gatherings at Buchi’s house to watch football and helping each other with homework. According to Buchi, the team plans on taking a trip to a shooting range to learn gun safety and practice firing pistols. The time spent together outside of practice is something freshman Ryan Neiswender believes will serve the team well during games.

“At the beginning (of preseason) when we were doing different sprints and different workouts, we were silent and doing our own thing,” Neiswender said. “But as our team has come together, we encourage each other more to keep going. I think that is a big part of why we are going to be successful this year.”

Buchi thinks the team’s strengths can carry to a national championship this season, a feat the team last accomplished in 2010.

“I’m hoping that other teams are not expecting a lot from us and we become this underdog position because I love being the underdog,” Buchi said. “I love when people say, ‘Oh it’s a new coach, and it’s not really a big team. They are probably going to do OK, but won’t come close.’ And I want to come in and just shock and awe.”

Daniel can be reached at [email protected] and @ddexter23.