Junior Division Varsity National Champion, two-time Intercollegiate Division Men's National Champion and MVP, two-time German DRS Cup Championship winner and Paralympic gold medalist. This is the resume of an elite wheelchair basketball player, but if you say that to Steve Serio, he would not agree.
“I’ve never had that mindset,” Serio replied when called an elite player. “To be honest with you, I still don’t have that mindset.”
Serio’s path to becoming a Paralympian and one of the top wheelchair basketball players in the United States was quite unique. Although he has been living with his disability since he was 11-months-old, Steve didn’t try wheelchair basketball until he was a junior in high school. He acted as a team manager for some of his school’s teams, but it wasn’t until he was introduced to the sport by a wheelchair track player that he gave wheelchair basketball a shot.
Maybe it’s his late start that gives the Paralympian such a humble view of his career. “I’ve always focused on short term goals,” Serio explained. “When I first started, I knew that I could go to college and have my tuition paid for. So that was my first goal.”
He accomplished that goal when he was accepted into the University of Illinois and later won two Intercollegiate National Championships for his school. Serio claims that it was his time at the University of Illinois, under the tutelage of Head Coach Mike Frogley, that propelled his skills on the court.
“He was the one that who taught me the ins-and-outs of the game,” Serio recalled. “How to think the game rather than be overly athletic or try to score every time. He gave me all the tools that I have now.”
After graduation, Seiro moved to Germany, where he played professionally with RSV Lahn-Dill for five years. But after a successful career in Germany, Serio wanted to come back to his hometown for New York City to lay down his roots. His family was there and after five years abroad, he realized how important it was to be back with them. And now that he is back in New York City, Serio now headlines a talented roster for the New York Rollin’ Knicks.
The Rollin’ Knicks have had a very strong season so far and are the top ranked Adult Division I team in the month of February. You would think being ranked first would boost his confidence for the National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament presented by ABC Medical coming up in April, but for Serio, nothing is certain until the final bell rings.
“I don’t think we’re necessarily the favorites,” Serio admitted. “The Dallas Wheelchair Mavericks are the perennial champions in our country and they will be the favorites until someone beats them.”
As someone who has won at the highest levels of the sport, Serio knows what he’s talking about. The Dallas Wheelchair Mavericks have won seven of the last eight NWBT Adult Division I Championships and enter this year with a very strong team. But the New York Rollin’ Knicks have the power to give the Mavericks a fight.
Although this is just the second year that Serio has been a part of the team, he says that there is one X-factor that gives the Knicks a chance to win it all this year. “One of our strengths is our depth,” Serio claimed. “We have two lineups that we can throw out there and stay competitive. Other teams have five or six guys that they trust, but we can go nine or ten deep.”
The Knicks are looking to make some noise at this year’s tournament, but there’s more to the NWBT than the competition for Serio. “I like the fact that everyone comes together for the NWBT,” Serio said. “The wheelchair basketball community is like one big family and getting everyone under one big roof is rare.”
As for tips for first timers at the tournament this April, Serio advises everyone to take it all in and meet as many people as possible. Some of his closest friends in the world come from wheelchair basketball and the NWBT is the perfect opportunity to cross paths with people you would never meet otherwise.
“Once you embrace everything the NWBT has to offer, it can be a life changing experience in the best of ways.”