Spencer Heslop has been playing wheelchair basketball for 18 years. A key player on the Utah Wheelin’ Jazz - Division I, Heslop has helped lead his team into the upcoming 2020 National Tournament, as well as aid the growth of the sport in Utah.
Heslop originally started playing when he was seven, after his parents found a local league. He played in the junior division, then eventually for the University of Illinois, where he graduated with a degree in integrative biology. After moving back to Utah, Heslop joined the Utah Wheelin’ Jazz, where he has played for two years. Off the court, Heslop works as a revenue cycle manager for MiTAB and stays involved in his church. Heslop noted that he admires and looks up to many of the athletes that he plays against in Division I, many of whom are the best in the world and represent their countries in the Paralympics. “You can learn a lot from them in the course of a game. When you're defending them, like, seeing how they work to beat your defense or beat your offense, whatever it may be,” explained Heslop. “I definitely look up to them and appreciate the path that they've kind of shown me.”
There are only two wheelchair basketball teams in Utah—one adult and one junior-based team, which originated when Heslop was in high school. Over the course of the season, Wheelin’ Jazz has played an influential role in growing the game around the state. The team has hosted exhibition scrimmages, met with local business leaders, and worked on strengthening the junior program. “The biggest thing is we just want to be able to expand our reach of those athletes here in Utah, who maybe don't know much about wheelchair basketball or wheelchair athletics in general. [We can] help them find an outlet where they can compete and where they can feel successful,” said Heslop.
The Wheelin’ Jazz has had its ups and downs over the season. They currently have a 5-4-0 record, with all four of their losses coming from top-ranked teams including the MedStar NRH Punishers, Dallas Wheelchair Mavericks, and the NY Rollin Knicks. “I think even from the struggles that we've had, I think our team has learned a little bit because we've got some new guys, and we've got some just trying to incorporate some of our younger guys in with our older guys,” Heslop explained.
Heading into Nationals, the Wheeling Jazz has a goal to finish in the top four, a path that they haven’t made many times. Heslop hopes that the team walks away knowing that they left it all on the court and gave it their best shot, no matter the outcome. “We can control how we play and playing the way that we play as the Wheeling Jazz. That's, that's what we can control.”