By John Burbridge firstname.lastname@example.org
CHARLES CITY — The fundamentals and strategies of basketball reach their sublime levels when played in a wheelchair.
The importance of filling a lane on a fastbreak, or hijacking a lane in defensive transition becomes more paramount in wheelchair basketball.
Likewise for setting double-team traps as well as back-door screens, establishing early post positioning, and — of course — executing the good old pick-and-roll.
Early into a wheelchair full-court run, or rather roll, at the Charles City Family YMCA last Wednesday, it didn’t take long to spot the LeBron James on wheels of the evening — Cedar Rapids 14-year-old A.J. Miller, who dominated on both sides of the floor.
“I’ve been playing wheelchair basketball for five years,” said Miller, who is one of the leading scorers for the Rolling Panthers WC team.
“We have players from all over the state,” Miller said. “We’re always looking for more … hopefully we can recruit some more from around here.”
The Rolling Panthers provided the sport wheelchairs for the second of three appearances at the YMCA as they are due to return for a third Wednesday night on March 13. Wheelchair-bound athletes as well as able-body athletes are welcome to come and play.
“For players under 18 years old, we do require that their parents sign a waiver,” said Rolling Panthers head coach Vincent Liddle. “Other than that, anyone can play.”
Before teams were chosen by a playground-like alternating pick-em draft, Liddle gave a short clinic for those new to playing in a chair.
“When you move forward, you want your hand and arms to move along the wheel as it rolls before pushing forward again,” Liddle said. “Otherwise, it’s going to feel like you’re doing endless bench presses after a short while.”
Liddle also instructed how to retrieve loose balls.
“You don’t want to reach in front of you to where you can knock heads with another player,” he said.
Instead, a player should approach the ball from the side of their chair and trap it up against the wheel before rolling the ball up to them.
Liddle and the Rolling Panthers were encouraged to come to the Charles City Family YMCA when YMCA employee Spencer Odom, who is wheelchair-bound but is active in sports and recreational activities, interfaced with Liddle during an outdoor wheelchair event this past summer.
“We have quite of few Charles City residents who are wheelchair athletes,” said YMCA executive director Lance Lasher. “What we’re hoping to do is purchase some chairs and maybe have a 4-on-4 basketball program here throughout the year.
“And if that works out, we might even do volleyball.”
The Rolling Panthers are part of SportAbility of Iowa. Those interested in joining the team, or about SportAbility of Iowa in general, visit sportabilityofiowa.org.