The best college wheelchair basketball teams will compete in Champaign-Urbana this week – and you can see it for free.
The 42nd annual National Intercollegiate Wheelchair Basketball Tournament begins Thursday, March 14, at State Farm Center, and the University of Illinois’ men’s and women’s teams will be in action. Parking and admission are free for the opportunity to see some of the best athletes in the country. Concession stands will be open.
“It’s a great opportunity to bring the family out to an event at State Farm Center for free, which doesn’t usually happen, (and) to be able to see something that their kids have probably never seen before,” UI men’s coach Matt Buchi said. “It’s a really exciting way to expand their thought of sports and what people with disabilities can do.”
The Illini men are seeded sixth in the nine-team bracket and begin play at 4 p.m. Thursday against Texas Arlington. The Illini women’s seeded third out of four squads, plays its opening game at 2 p.m. Thursday against Alabama. Results will dictate when they compete in their next game. (Losers drop into the consolation bracket.)
“I think what people are expecting when they originally coming in is that they think it’s going to be a slower paced game or something that’s just great for these kids in chairs to be able to do,” Buchi said “But what they’re going to be experiencing is some of the best wheelchair basketball players in the country competing at the highest level tournament that they’ve had all season. You’ve got these guys from across the United States and a lot of international guys who are going to be competing. And it is a high-intensity, high-speed game where you consider basketball with full contact in metal.”
The rules are the same as able-bodied college basketball with the exception of dribbling. A player is allowed two pushes before being required to take a dribble. Three pushes is a traveling violation. A typical game takes about 90 minutes.
Illinois has a rich history in wheelchair basketball. This year marks the 50th anniversary of its men’s national championship, Buchi noted, when the school also hosted at what was then the Assembly Hall. More recent events have typically been held at Huff Hall.