Coach Ron Lykins, a graduate of the basketball capital of the United States, the University of Kentucky, is reaching as he stated, “The highest honor anyone could have.” He was chosen to be the U.S. Men’s National Wheelchair Basketball head coach in January of 2013. Having previously coached the women’s team to a pair of gold medals at the Athens and Beijing Paralympic Games, this will be his first turn on the men’s side, and he couldn’t be more excited to be heading to such a unique city such as Rio de Janeiro that will have a “different flavor” as he put it, than any of his past Paralympic Games.
The games are less than 100 days away and Lykins is ready to build his team and truly forge an identity. As of now, the team is 16 players deep, but will shortly be cut to 12 players. The team is playing for the gold medal at the Toronto Friendly in Toronto, Canada, where Team USA started with victories over Canada, Great Britain and Turkey. Once the final roster for the games is complete, Lykins will have them focus on working as a team and being that bigger, faster and stronger team everyone knows them to be.
Preparation so far has not quite been what Lykins would like it to be, as most players have been playing overseas and they have not all been together since selection camp in January. However, along with his coaching staff, Lykins and his crew focused all their energy into the itinerary for the first training camp, which took place in Colorado Springs, Colo., May 22-26, so when they got to the training center, “Players could just play and coaches could just coach,” Lykins stated.
Considering minimal team preparation, it did not show on the Olympic Training Center court going into the first day of training camp.
“The energy and intensity was unbelievable. It was draining watching the guys really go all out,” said Lykins.
He attributes this energy to how close knit the entire team is and how that energy of friendship transfers directly into how they play together. This tight knit group has two specific players that fuel the fire for the rest of the team.
“Mike Paye and Steve Serio are true leaders on and off the court, they are more or less an extension of the coaching staff,” said Lykins. “These two athletes are highly respected by both the coaching staff and their teammates. They will be sure to make a difference come the Paralympic Games.”
When I asked Lykins about the transition of coaching the women and now the men, he humorously added “It’s exactly the same, the men just have a different physique.”
His coaching style did not need to change because the women might not have been as fast but they were just as tough as the men.
He finds himself standing and watching in amazement at practice instead of calling plays or changing drills. “The biggest difference was realizing with the men that certain things were actually possible in wheelchair basketball, because of their physicality and strength,” said Lykins. These two characteristics is exactly what will make this team a championship team, which is exactly what Lykins is building with the desire to bring home gold, an accomplishment last done for the men at the 1988 Seoul Paralympics.