FORT CARSON, Colo. – The All-Marine Warrior Games Wheelchair Basketball Team continues to prepare for the inaugural Warrior Games, May 10.
As the second week of the Warrior Games training camp comes to an end, the basketball athletes shift gears from fundamental basketball to offensive and defensive plays.
All-Marine Wheelchair Basketball Team forward U.S. Marine Gunnery Sgt., Marcus Wilson, a 33-year-old from Dermott, Ark., thinks the practices are hard, but necessary for victory next week.
"You know what, I'm not getting stressed out," said. "I'm just going to have a good time and keep playing."
With only a few days of training left, the athletes need to focus on what they've learned, playing as team, and how to apply those basics during plays, said wheelchair basketball Coach Billy Demby, a 59-year-old from Price, Md.
"Some of the guys aren't keeping their head up. They need to remember to move forward, as a team – assisting and advancing as one. Not only setting offensive picks for each other, but moving with them instead of ignoring the opportunity," he said.
"I'd like to see more picking, and more moving," he told them during a huddle. "If someone's coming to set a pick for you – don't go the other way."
Demby played basketball most of his life. He played regular ball up to his Army service in Vietnam, and wheelchair basketball after sustaining injuries in Vietnam. He's coached and played wheelchair basketball for the last 25 years.
The athletes know they're in good hands. Although tense, none of the players second-guess their upcoming win. They know the gold medal's theirs.
"I know I've greatly improved," said U.S. Marine Sgt. Michael Blair, a 35-year-old forward from Dallas, Texas. "And that's just in the short amount of time training here."
Blair jumped on a championship year his last and only year of high-school basketball. Even though it's not exactly the same as how he remembered playing, it's just something that takes time getting used to.
"The only difference is the chair is an extension of your body," he explained. "You have to adjust. We're practicing the basics of basketball as a team. It's challenging having to operate a mechanical chair while playing though. You can't move sideways for one."
Despite the obvious barriers the All-Marine Warrior Games Wheelchair Basketball Team prevails, working together and employing the basics is how they foresee a victory ahead, said Demby.
The team has been focusing on adapting to their opposition's defense, even if their not running a certain play, he added.
"Once the guys are at the point where they're using the fundamentals – we'll finish the training with executing a few plays," Demby explained. "And, immediately reacting if a play doesn't work.
If the defense stops it there's always options. I need them to see that. That's why during scrimmages I'll stop, blow the whistle ask, 'Did you see that [option.] You didn't see it?'"
With players focusing on Demby's instruction, one of the player's parents got an early sight of the team practicing, enjoying her first time seeing the sport in person.
"I think they're going to give the other services a good run," said Donna English, mother of guard U.S. Marine Cpl. Ray Hennagir. "They're Marines. They just need to unify – play as a team. Just like they do in the field. My husband and I are amazed."
The basketball athletes plan on continuing with their core training and collaborative playing. They're confident about how they'll do at the Warrior Games.
"Let's have them play our game. If we can force our game – we'll have no problem winning," Demby concluded.
The basketball team continues practicing until their preliminary game beginning at 6 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, May 11, at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. For more information and updates, follow the All-Marine Warrior Games Team on the 'Warrior Games' Facebook fan page.