UA camp hosts disabled vets

20 learn rudiments of wheelchair sports at 3-day program
2010-05-29T00:00:00Z 2014-09-15T09:05:25Z UA camp hosts disabled vetsRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 29, 2010 12:00 am  • 

Keith Avant's hands are covered in athletic tape, the palms crisscrossed with streaks of white and the fingers ringed just above the knuckle.

Underneath the tape? Don't ask.

"Blisters," he says with a groan. "I used to play basketball. This is like 100 times harder."

But it's getting easier.

The UA's adaptive-athletics program helped Avant and 19 other disabled military veterans this week for their second annual sports camp at the Campus Recreation Center. From Wednesday through Friday, the veterans - most of them beginners - were drilled on the basics of wheelchair basketball, tennis and rugby.

As one of the top adaptive-athletics programs in the nation, the UA has 75 athletes who compete in men's basketball, women's basketball, track and road racing, rugby and tennis.

The camp for disabled veterans, paid for by a government grant, serves as both an eye-opener and a recruiting tool.

"The statistics are real clear," said David Herr-Cardillo, the assistant director of the UA's disability resource center. "If people with a disability get a college degree, they're going to do much better."

The veterans took a tour of the UA and learned about the disability resource center during their three days on campus.

For former Army Sgt. Chris Bryant, the camp was a glimpse of things to come.

Burly and muscular, Bryant began playing wheelchair basketball at an Augusta, Ga., Veterans Affairs hospital a few years ago. He played basketball in high school and for fun before his right leg was injured in a car accident. The adjustment to the wheelchair game was a tough one, he said. "The hardest part? Getting used to actually playing in a chair and having a new approach to shooting, dribbling and passing," he said. "There are the same rules, but it's different."

Bryant, 29, attended the UA's first camp a year ago and impressed coaches so much he was encouraged to transfer.

He will take his first course at the UA next month and major in applied sciences. Bryant will play for the Arizona Wildchairs, the men's wheelchair basketball team, starting in the fall.

The camp, Bryant said, "opened my eyes to the broad range of opportunities that are out there."

It's also serious stuff.

Derek Brown, Arizona's wheelchair basketball coach and camp counselor, ran two practices each day with military precision - and a frantic pace.

The campers began each practice by honing their wheelchair basketball skills - learning how to drive, pivot and turn in the custom chairs. They learned how to keep their hands from blistering - wear gloves, push with your palms and never grab at the spokes - and how much pressure to put on each wheel to orchestrate a sharp turn.

"That's the hardest thing: the maneuvering the wheelchair," said Avant, a 34-year-old former Marine who said his left foot was crushed during a DEA sting gone awry. "You have to push yourself. That's where the military training comes in."

Players spent the middle hour of each practice learning plays - an intricate, often physical dance. The high-low screen play, for example, requires precise cuts and some metal-on-metal crashing. The screener uses a "V-cut" to shake his defender loose and rolls to the corner, where he screens for his teammate. Cutting hard to the basket, the screened-for player slips his defender for an easy layup. Players scream, "I'm open" or "Dive! Dive!" as they cut to the hoop.

"It does seem a little technical, but it's basically the basics of basketball," Brown said. "We want to motivate them so that when they leave this camp, they have the fundamentals of basketball."

Blisters couldn't keep Avant off the court. That's what athletic tape is for.

"I didn't know any of the guys before this week, but it almost brings you back to the camaraderie you had before," Avant said. "You hook up just like that. You trash-talk each other. You have fun.

"This is one of the best times I've had in a long time."

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Pac-12 basketball standings

  Conference Overall
Utah 6 1 0 0.857 16 3 0 0.842
Arizona 6 1 0 0.857 18 2 0 0.900
Stanford 5 2 0 0.714 14 5 0 0.737
Oregon State 5 2 0 0.714 13 5 0 0.722
Oregon 4 3 0 0.571 14 6 0 0.700
UCLA 3 4 0 0.429 11 9 0 0.550
Colorado 3 4 0 0.429 10 8 0 0.556
Washington 3 4 0 0.429 14 5 0 0.737
Washington State 3 4 0 0.429 9 10 0 0.474
Arizona State 2 5 0 0.286 11 10 0 0.524
California 1 6 0 0.143 11 9 0 0.550
USC 1 6 0 0.143 9 10 0 0.474

AP Top 25

Pac-12 basketball schedule

Teams Date Time
Oregon State at
Arizona State
1/28 6:00 pm
Oregon at
1/28 8:00 pm
Stanford at
1/28 9:00 pm
Colorado at
1/29 7:30 pm
Utah at
1/29 8:00 pm
California at
Washington State
1/29 9:00 pm
Oregon at
Arizona State
1/30 6:00 pm
Oregon State at
1/30 8:00 pm
Stanford at
Washington State
1/31 6:00 pm
Colorado at
1/31 8:30 pm
Utah at
2/1 12:30 pm
California at
2/1 1:00 pm
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