KITAKYUSHU, JAPAN – Team USA finished with a 2-3 record and fourth place finish at the 13th Kitakyush Champions’ Cup. Team USA improved on a 0-5 record and fourth place finish from this event in 2015. The countries represented in this competition included Japan, Australia and Great Britain.
The rosters for the opposing countries were a strong representation of anticipated rosters for the 2017 U23 World Championships in Toronto, Canada. Athletes in attendance from the 2016 Rio Paralympics included Tom O’Neil-Thorne of Australia (3.0), Gregg Warburton of Great Britain (2.0), Renshi Chokai of Japan (2.0) and Naohiro Murakami of Japan (4.0).
The tournament started for Team USA with a friendly match against the Kyushu Eagles of the Japanese Professional Wheelchair Basketball League. Kyushu provided a tough matchup for Team USA in a game that had 12 lead changes. Team USA secured a 55-53 victory by out rebounding Kyushu 35-18, Team USA was led by Jorge Salazar of National City, CA with 15 boards. Salazar also led Team USA offensively with 14 points and six assists. Other contributors for Team USA include Dustin Casey of Bothell, WA with 14 points/8 rebounds/5 assists and Jon Fagre of Eagan, MN with 12 points/1 rebound/1 assist. Yuki Tachikawa led Kyushu shooting overall FG% of 56.5% with 27 points, three assist and two rebounds.
For Team USA, the 13th Kitakyushu Champions’ Cup pool play started against host nation Japan. Team USA played Japan tough until an 18-5 run by Japan to end the first half. Efficient shooting by Japan was too much for Team USA to overcome losing to Japan 65-47. The speed and full court press by Japan generated 21 turnovers by Team USA. Salazar and Matt Bollig of Columbia, MO led the way offensively for Team USA: Salazar with 18 points/14 rebounds/3 assists and Bollig with 11 points/4 assists/1 rebound. Leaders on offense for Japan were Takuya Furusawa with 22 points on an overall FG % of 76.9% and Naohiro Murakami with 16 points on an overall FG % of 61.5%.
The second game of pool play for Team USA was against Australia. Team USA was very efficient offensively in the first half, which led to a half time lead of 34-22. Despite scoring only five points in the fourth quarter and Australia finishing the game on an 11-5 run, Team USA was able to hold on to a 56-50 victory. Team USA took care of the basketball limiting their turnovers to 14. Salazar again led Team USA with 18 points, 14 rebounds and 3 assists. Australia was led by O’Neil-Thorne with 24 points and Jake Fulwood with 14 points. Team USA distributed the ball well with 16 total assists and five players scoring at least six points.
The final day of competition started with Team USA playing basically a “play-in” game with Great Britain for the gold medal game, with both teams having a 1-1 record thus far in pool play. Team USA started slow being down as much as 15 points, though finished the first half down 33-22. Ball security and a poor shooting performance led to a 62-41 loss for Team USA. Team USA finished the game with a tournament-high 24 turnovers. Additionally, Team USA finished the game with a tournament low team FG % of 32.1%. Salazar was the only player from Team USA with more than eight points finishing with an offensive line of 15 points, 11 rebounds and 3 assists. Great Britain was led by Paralympian Greg Warburton with a total FG % of 72.7%, 17 points, 12 assists and 5 rebounds.
The bronze medal game was a rematch of Team USA versus Australia. Australia started very strong offensively taking a 39-31 lead into half time. Team USA attempted to hard jump and slow the offensive explosion by O’Neil-Thorne for Australia. Unfortunately, Team USA was unable to match the offense of Australia losing 75-61. O’Neil-Thorne finished with overall FG % of 63.6%, 33 points, 17 rebounds and nine assist. Anderson Parker with 14 points and Thomas McHugh with 12 points were other contributing players for Australia. Team USA was led by Bollig with 29 points, Casey with 18 points and Zachary Steger of Richardson, TX with 10 points. Australia finished with a team FG % of 59.3%, Team USA finished with 37.5%. Australia out rebounded Team USA 49-23, this was the only game of the tournament that Team USA was out rebounded.
Team USA Head Coach Doug Dixon of Prior Lake, MN served in his first international coaching experience. Dixon was the 2016 NWBA Junior Division Coach of the Year and, as head coach, two time winner of the NWBA Junior Division Varsity National Championship. Dixon has 20 years of coaching experience and currently is the head coach of the Courage Kenny Jr. Rolling Timberwolves.
Joining Dixon on the sidelines as assistant coach was AJ Messmer of Whitewater, WI. Emily Dixon of Columbia, MO served as Statistician. Brandon McBeain served as NWBA staff and Team Leader. The remaining athletes on Team USA are Grady Gordon of Saint Louis Park, MN, Holden Kowalke of Shorewood, MN, Thomas Duffy of Ottawa, IL and Robert Doyle of Eden Prairie, MN.
Since 2003, the NWBA has fielded six teams for the Kitakyushu Champions’ Cup. Team USA also attended in 2005 (finished 2nd place) and 2007 (finished 3rd place). The Dallas Wheelchair Mavericks attended in 2010 (finished 3rd place) and in 2012 (finished 3rd place).
The Kitakyushu Champions’ Cup commemorates the 2002 Gold Cup World Wheelchair Basketball Championships in Kitakyushu.
Team USA appreciates the service and accommodations provided by the city of Kitakyushu, organizing committee and Japan Wheelchair Basketball Federation. Team USA also appreciates the great competition of the Japanese Professional Wheelchair Basketball League, Australia, Great Britain and Japan.
13th Kitakyushu Champions’ Cup
Team USA defeated Kitakyushu Eagles,
Day 1 – Link to Video Stream
(00:20:00 start of Team USA vs. Japan)
Japan defeated Team USA, 65-47
Great Britain defeated Australia, 59-47
Day 2 – Link to Video Stream
(02:05:00 start of Team USA vs. Australia)
Japan defeated Great Britain, 59-32
Team USA defeated Australia, 56-50
Day 3 – Link to Video Stream
(02:40:00 start of Bronze Medal Game; no stream available for GBR vs. Team USA)
Japan defeated Australia, 52-48
Great Britain defeated Team USA, 62-41
Bronze Medal Game
Australia defeated Team USA, 75-61
Gold Medal Game
Japan defeated Great Britain, 59-47