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
Team W L T PCT W L T PCT
Arizona State 0 0 0 0.000 3 0 0 1.000
Oregon State 0 0 0 0.000 3 0 0 1.000
Stanford 0 0 0 0.000 3 0 0 1.000
Arizona 0 0 0 0.000 3 0 0 1.000
Oregon 0 0 0 0.000 3 0 0 1.000
UCLA 0 0 0 0.000 3 0 0 1.000
Washington 0 0 0 0.000 2 0 0 1.000
California 0 0 0 0.000 3 1 0 0.750
Colorado 0 0 0 0.000 2 1 0 0.667
Utah 0 0 0 0.000 2 1 0 0.667
USC 0 0 0 0.000 2 2 0 0.500
Washington State 0 0 0 0.000 1 2 0 0.333

AP Top 25


Pac-12 basketball schedule

Teams Date Time
Drexel at
USC
11/21 70-72
Toledo at
Oregon
11/21 68-78
UNLV at
Stanford
11/21 60-89
UC Riverside at
Utah
11/21 42-88
Colorado at
Wyoming
11/22 33-56
Long Beach State at
UCLA
11/23 8:00 pm
Missouri at
Arizona
11/24 3:00 pm
@Arizona State, @Maryland 11/24 5:00 pm
@Oklahoma State, @Oregon State 11/24 6:30 pm
@Michigan, @Oregon 11/24 7:30 pm
Cal State-Fullerton at
USC
11/25 9:00 pm
Texas-Pan American at
Utah
11/26 6:00 pm
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