SANTIAGO, CHILE (Nov. 25, 2023)
With one finger pointed to the sky, Steven Serio held his follow through. It wasn’t supposed to go in. Time was winding down in the third quarter and Serio had to attempt. His 3-point shot was pure.
Jacob Williams wheeled over to congratulate Serio, a gesture that was quickly replicated by two more teammates. And though the United States had already generated a 30-point lead by then, Serio’s jumper punctuated its dominance.
Yet, the win wasn’t expected. Serio and Williams don’t like that term. The pair said each tournament presents new challenges and applauded their team for beating Colombia, 81-45, to secure gold at the 2023 Parapan American Games.
But Team USA did the same in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. And again during Rio 2016. So, it’s clear that there’s a standard, which Williams wasn’t shy to express — “U.S.A basketball belongs on top for sure.”
Riding a combined 47 points from Serio and Williams, the U.S. cruised to a first-place finish Saturday evening. It jumped out to a 10-0 lead against Colombia and never looked back, eventually stamping its ticket to qualify for the 2024 Paris Paralympics.
“To bring home another gold medal for our country, this has been an unbelievable moment for our group and we’re going to savor this for a while,” Serio said.
Team USA’s early advantage sped its opponents up. Rushed possessions and errant 3-point heaves littered several Colombian possessions before it scored four minutes into the opening quarter.
But the United States’ offense never let up. Serio scored 10 of its first 14 on perfect 5-5 shooting from the field. Then, on consecutive plays, with 1:28 remaining in the first period, Williams dished to Serio on two crosscourt passes for uncontested buckets — an offensive set that Williams said was a product of knowing Serio’s “sweet spots.”
Despite entering the second quarter trailing 26-7, Colombia started to find its rhythm. It experienced success through jump shots by Jhon Hernandez and Juan Escobar but failed to slow the U.S. down. Serio responded by running effective pick-and-rolls with Brian Bell and Jorge Salazar to gain lost ground, while Williams continued to score at will.
At one point, Team USA’s Jeromie Meyer strung together a swift seven points off of two left-wing jumpers and a top-of-the-key 3-point make. With Colombia concentrating on keeping Serio and Williams off the ball, Meyer was one of many quiet contributors for the United States, which helped it open up a 45-27 lead at the break.
“We have five threats on the floor at all times and I think they respected mine and Steve’s shooting,” Williams said. “We expect teams to jump on us, and whenever we swing it to the open guy, we expect them to make it for sure.”
Seemingly unfazed by the large deficit, Colombia continued to play aggressively throughout the second half. It rammed into U.S. chairs, attempting to force them out of play. On other possessions, it tried to induce panic from U.S. ball-handlers in the backcourt by trapping. But nothing really worked.
Near the end of the third quarter, Trevon Jenifer passed to Serio on a fast break for an easy right-handed layup. Williams then followed up by swishing a 3-pointer from the right wing and canned another directly afterward with 43 seconds left in the period.
“Colombia’s a great team. We played them earlier in pool play and we jumped to a lead in that one,” Jenifer said. “They’re a team that feeds off of energy and we knew that we needed to button up.”
Team USA introduced its first batch of substitutes at the 8:01 mark in the fourth quarter and eventually took Serio and Williams out with 5:19 remaining. The two sat, watching the seconds tick down on another medal to add to their award cabinets.
When the final buzzer sounded, the U.S. sideline erupted into hugs and cheers but clarified that winning the Parapan Games “isn’t the ultimate goal.” Less than a year removed, it will compete in Paris for a third straight Paralympic gold. Jenifer said he can’t wait to play with his “battle brothers” again and is “happy that we did it with this 12.”
As for Serio and Williams, the 36-point win was far from routine. They don’t like using that word, either. It’s another that they’ve worked hard for. And for now, this moment is to be enjoyed before the next challenge comes along.
“There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears that go into these victories,” Serio said. “Moments like this never get old.”