The University of Nebraska at Omaha’s wheelchair basketball team’s story is one of growth.
At first look, the UNO wheelchair basketball team’s record isn’t impressive, currently 3-12 on the season. But, Coach William “Mike” Kult would beg to differ.
Kult said the team formed in 2015 when Daniel Shipp, vice chancellor for student success, approached him about starting a wheelchair basketball team at UNO.
“We’ve seen a lot of progress,” Kult said. “When we first started, we had barely enough (five players) to start the team and everyone was brand new.”
Kult said he has nine players this year, with five returning from last year’s team. Players such as Josh Maier and Alex Nguyen, the team’s co-captains, are helping to build UNO’s wheelchair basketball program into a successful one.
Maier, a senior at UNO and one of the founding members of the wheelchair basketball team, said he has been playing for 13 years. Maier started with the Nebraska Red Dawgs team and then moved on to play at the University of Illinois before returning to Nebraska to play at UNO.
“We have an awesome mixture of personalities on the team which makes coming in to practice every weekday at 6 a.m. a lot more fun,” Maier said.
Nguyen, a Marine Corps veteran who lost a leg in Afghanistan, also believes the team is making strides toward success.
“One of the bigger highlights of the season is when the team started clicking, and we finally got our first win after losing the first four games,” Nguyen said, referencing their first win of the season against Kansas on Nov. 2.
For those not familiar with wheelchair basketball, the rules are the same as able-bodied basketball, Kult said.
“It’s literally the same except we can’t dunk with wheelchair basketball. Give me a couple more years and I might be able to,” Nguyen said while laughing.
Kult said wheelchair basketball teams follow these standards: they shoot from the same three-point line, free-throw line and have to get out of the lane in three seconds.
To be eligible for a wheelchair basketball team, players must have some form of physical limitation that prevents them from running, pivoting or jumping, Kult said.
“You see the same thing, pick and rolls, shots, layups. We just have to be better at it. You don’t have that lateral movement, you can’t jump, so your passes have to be good,” Kult said.
One thing that first-time spectators may not know, Kult said, is that the sport allows contact.
“A lot of people look at it and are surprised at how much contact there is. If you look at our wheelchairs, they have a lot of dents,” Kult said.
Kult, Maier and Nguyen also want everyone to know that the team needs support.
“We have a really big home tournament on Jan. 11-12 and would really appreciate all the support we can get,” Maier said.
Games will be played at Sapp Field House and the Health and Kinesiology building. Admission is free.