LIMA, PERU - The Men’s USA Wheelchair Basketball Team opened the 2019 Lima ParaPan American Games with an impressive win against Puerto Rico (106-35). Team USA is the reigning champion from the 2015 Toronto ParaPan American Games and entered this year’s competition as the odds in favorite.
Jake Williams (Milwaukee, WI) led all scorers with 23 points in the opening contest of the games with a sharp shooting performance. Williams put on a scoring clinic ranging from up tempo layups to mid-range shots to three of five from beyond the arc. When asked about his 77% shooting performance, Williams said: “when your number is called, you have to be ready, believe in what you’ve practiced and have done so far.”
From the jump ball through the final whistle, the Americans imposed their will on Puerto Rico. Josh Turek (Council Bluffs, IA), Brian Bell (Forest Park, IL) and Matt Scott (Detroit, MI) scored with great efficiency to fuel the victory for USA. On the defensive side of the ball, Team USA’s superior speed and chair skills proved too much for Puerto Rico to overcome. Puerto Rico shot 29% from the floor and had 19 turnovers. Head Coach, Ron Lykins (Columbus, MO) used the full court press sparingly, but ensured his team was focused on stopping chair movement in the half court.
Today’s game was about establishing momentum. Nine athletes have returned from the 2018 IWBF World Championship roster, while all 12 athletes on this roster have multiple Team USA experiences on their resume. Since last year’s second place World Championship finish, the men remain undefeated. This game was every bit a statement game and positions them well in their pool. It also helps them get a step closer to qualifying for Tokyo 2020. The top three teams in the Men’s competition in Lima will earn a Paralympic berth.
Matt Scott has been a mainstay on Team USA since first earning a spot on the Athens 2004 Paralympic Team. He’s been a part of rebuilding the program to podium prominence, and he’s keen to ensure that gold in Rio 2016 was not a one-off.
“We need tournaments like this to establish momentum; we haven’t peaked yet, but we are hitting our stride; we’ve got deadly shooters on this team, and today was a testament to how hard we’ve been working to prepare,” said Scott.
Head Coach, Ron Lykins, is a seasoned veteran on the international stage. He has amassed victories as the Head Coach for USA Women, and the USA Men since 2013. Lykins explained the significance of this game.
“It was important for us to start the tournament strong, and we feel we did that. We were pleased with how well our guys played up and down the line. We turn our attention now to the host country, Peru, and what should be a great atmosphere to play in tomorrow night,” said Lykins.
Zach Blair, a US Marine Corps Veteran, and a member of the NWBA competed today for Puerto Rico. Despite being the focal point of the USA defense, Blair was able to score 15 of Puerto Rico’s 35 points in 30 minutes played. Lima 2019 is Blair’s first time competing for a National Team, and he has his hopes set on qualifying for Tokyo 2020. When asked about his journey, Blair stated: “Competing at Warrior Games introduced me to the sport and two Hall of Famers (Lee Montgomery and Darryl ‘Tree’ Waller) introduced me to the NWBA. Playing at University of Texas-Arlington has led to the Puerto Rico National Team discovering me. I’m grateful for everything the NWBA has done to create this opportunity. This is everything!”
The hosts and Local Organizing Committee in Lima have been supportive for all the countries and athletes represented at these games. Live-streaming of the games will take place on TeamUSA.org. The NWBA will share the link on its Facebook page (@NWBA70). Please continue to follow our content there and on Twitter and Instagram (@NWBA).